The days are becoming cool and raining and between that and days when my hands won’t let me draw that coincide with the good days, I’m not getting a lot of opportunity to sketch on location. But Yvan and I did get out and into the alleyways of old Quebec to do a bit of sketching. This, and the smile on my face, was the result.
Training the eye to see relationships and proportions is tough business. We tend to choose subjects based upon our current abilities and approach them with a ‘good enough’ fashion determined by limits of those abilities. This is why everyone says that portraits are the ‘hardest’ form of drawing. I see it rather tha portraits are the one place people worry about precision and accuracy.
For myself, I’m no different but I like to challenge myself sometimes, with the most important stages of a drawing being those early stages where I’m trying to nail down relationships and proportions. Classical artists call this ‘blocking in.’ The best subjects for these exercises, for me, are those that are very organic as the relationships between one element and the others are not evident.
I found this sun-bleached stump while visiting the information center at Bic National Park, just south of Rimouski. I didn’t have time to actually draw it but I snapped this photo and it served for the exercise I’ve described.
The first thing I did was use straight lines/angles to determine the outer boundaries of each of the arms of this hunk of tree. Once this is done, double-checking the angles confirms the location of each of the arms, which will make it a lot easier to draw. I continued a bit with the pencil, drawing cylinder-shaped blobs to represent each of the arms, mostly concerned about their angles. Note that I didn’t worry much about what the actual outlines were and certainly none of the small details. I increased the contrast on this graphic so you could see the lines; in practice they are very light.
With the location of all of the parts and their relative sizes, I can leave behind the cognitive functions of my brain, stop measuring, get “into the zone” and begin drawing with ink. It wouldn’t matter whether I was drawing “loose” or “tight,” I could draw without worrying about where the parts were supposed to be. It’s very liberating and fun.
I’m guessing here but the pencil portion took me no more than five minutes, probably less. The ink portion was more like twenty minutes. Could I do it faster if I’d skip all this and go ‘direct with pen’ as so many urban sketchers advocate. Maybe, but in my experience it actually takes longer because as a ‘direct’ pen sketch progresses, I have to ‘adjust’ things to correct for small errors I’ve made along the way. Besides, improving accuracy and precision doesn’t come from ignoring it. Besides, it’s fun. Here’s the result. It’s just a stump, but it was a fun challenge.
The Artistes dans les Parcs leader, Denise Bujold arranged for us to spend a Thursday sketching at a winery on the Ile d’Orleans, not far from Quebec City. She surprised us by using her superpowers to give us ideal weather as well. There were sixteen of us scattered around the winery, drawing, painting or enjoying each other’s company. It was quite a day.
We all took a break for lunch, sitting at some picnic benches available for visitors to the winery. The sun was so inviting that I wanted to lay down in the grass and fall asleep. Ah…to be a kid again where that wouldn’t be seen as rude (grin).
Rejean had done a small vignette of a cluster of grapes and I decided I needed to do one too. I have a tough time walking down hills right now but I found I could walk along a road that wound its way around some buildings and served as a way for tractors to get to the lower level. Eventually I got to the head of one of the fields and found a cluster of grapes near an end post, creating an ideal subject. I was pretty happy with the result and the entire day.
I’ve been reading a lot about sketching landscapes lately and one idea that pops up regularly is that of assembling a scene based upon what you see and what makes the composition work. Moving a tree, or eliminating some is often the example given. I have a hard time with that concept. It makes perfect sense and I admire those who can do it, but it seems I’m a literalist at heart and so I always end up drawing what I see.
But recently I did assemble a scene from nature, quite literally. During our trip to Rimouski we (mostly Chantal and Jodie because I couldn’t climb around on the rocks very well) collected a whole bunch of crab parts. The whole endeavour was done so I could draw the parts but it got a bit out of control. In the end, we ended up with a whole bag of smelly carapaces, legs and claws.
When we got home the question was what to do with them as they really did smell. Chantal put all the parts in a bunch of pie tins with mesh cloth over them to keep the flies away and put them on our deck. The smell did diminish but it never went away, even after a week or so of loving care.
As I started doing this the biologist in me, or maybe the Dr. Frankenstein, started sticking parts together. Before I knew it I had a nearly complete crab sitting on the table. I did take some photos of my prize and then sat down to draw it. I learned that drawing a crab can make you go cross-eyed trying to follow all the leg parts but it was fun.
When faced with opportunity, a sketcher shouldn’t hesitate and Yvan and I are no exceptions. Miriam invited us to sketch at her place on Ile d’Orleans and we jumped at the chance. The location is beautiful and Miriam is there to sketch with us. What’s not to like?
The day was delightful, though my hands seemed to have a mind of their own. These days, straight lines are becoming hard to make. But we had a lot of fun sketching together and enjoying the day. Here are a couple of my sketches from the day.
We can look at the world as a bunch of contour lines, a bunch of interlocking shapes, or a set of 3D masses as we create our art. Many may view the world as a melange of these three points of view, but then emphasize one or the other as we put the scene to paper.
As a pen guy I have most experience with contour, but the more I sketch the more I envision the world as shapes and masses, converting them to line in my drawings. I’ve tried, on a couple occasions to draw using shapes laid down directly with watercolor, but my watercolor abilities are very limited so, for the most part, these experiments don’t work out that well (grin).
But recently we were in Rimouski, Quebec and I took some photos, one of my daughter sitting on a pile of rocks exposed during low tide. I decided to sketch that photo and tried to capture it as color shapes, adding some pen lines after the fact.
At the outset I believed this would result in a much looser sketch than my typical pen drawing but I was mistaken. Seems I look at shapes as having the same hard edges as a typical contour drawing. More surprising, though, was that my ‘calibrator’, the sense of the size of things, is a bit off when I pick up a brush and everything in this drawing is larger than it should be. My daughter looks huge, as does her hair. I found that interesting because I thought I was being very careful with proportions when laying down the shapes of this sketch. Silly me. I wonder why.
People say that getting “out of your comfort zone” is a good idea. So, I drive twice the speed limit, drink excessively and pick fights with NFL players. Just kidding…maybe that isn’t what they mean, though in the art world these catch-all phrases are ill-defined and hold little real meaning.
But this week seems to be a week where I’m doing things different from my norm and a couple days ago Yvan suggested that we do a ‘real’ sketchcrawl, where we go to a spot, sketch something quickly and then move on to the next spot, repeating until the day got too hot to continue, or until Larry got completely frustrated (grin).
And that’s exactly what we did. We hopped a bus and headed to a neighborhood where we’d never sketched and decided that we’d walk until one of us (took turns at that) decided it was time to stop. There, we would choose a subject and spend only a few minutes capturing the scene. Easy peasy, right?
For Yvan it was. He’s a superb sketcher and with decades of experience, he’s also really quick when he needs to be. Me, not so much. I’m still vying for the “slowest sketcher on the planet” award and I think I’m still in the lead.
When I start sketching quickly all sorts of things go wrong as I lose control of linear perspective, proportions, and relationships. These things cause my sketches to be barely recognizable as the scene before me. But heck, I was out of my comfort zone. That has to be good, right? These are three sketches I came up with during our quick-sketchcrawl session.
In sports there are regular references to athletes who play through the pain. I feel like I’m trying to do that right now with my sketching. I’m at a point where I can walk and stand but doing so requires a lot of energy because of my pronounced limp. Then, when I get on site, I further abuse my knee by sitting on my tripod stool.
At the same time, a star finally appeared over planet Quebec City, or at least that’s what the astronomers call it. The result has been that we’ve got these things authorities are calling shadows and a lot more light than normal. It has also gotten warm enough that we can sketch outdoors.
A fairly large group of us were downtown sketching. I learned later that everyone thought I’d gone home, I suppose, because of the grimace on my face when I walked, but actually I’d limped down to the south side of city hall and drew a street view.
Normally I lose track of time when I sketch but on this day I knew every minute because my knee kept sending out tweets screaming about being harassed and abused. But eventually I did finish the sketch. I didn’t notice, until now, that I didn’t draw any of those shadow things I mentioned. I guess I’ll get used to those in time.
When I finished I limped back to where everyone else was sketching. They were finishing up sketches and starting to talk about getting coffee. I sat down and with a couple minutes to fill, I started drawing some of the roof lines. Then we went to get coffee and reflect on the day. I think it’s going to be a long summer. I think I should be on the disabled list but don’t tell coach.
We went back to St. Vallier with intent to sketch the Pignon Bleu, a building that I’ve always loved. Only problem was that someone, some horrible someone, took a gorgeous building and “renovated” it into something they obviously thought to be an improvement. Me, not so much. Claudette and Yvan agreed so we ended up sketching a very unique building across the street.
My hand was not cooperating on this day. Arthritis is an unpredictable thing but one thing is certain. Having it in your drawing hand is frustrating. Because of this I decided that I’d just draw the fancy balcony facade. I still had some fun but I do wish you could buy replacement parts for old bodies.
Quebec City and Levis are separated from one another by the St. Lawrence River, which is a mighty river for sure, serving as the shipping highway between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. It seems to be a considerable barrier for our sketching group as we rarely go to Levis in spite of it being a great place to sketch. I could leave this description just the way it is, fully justifying our avoidance of that city, but the truth is, it’s only a 10-minute ferry boat ride so we really have no excuse.
We did go last Saturday, though, thanks to an invitation by Marie Gauthier, who owns/runs an atelier in Levis. And we had a great time, though I spent way too much time talking to the new acquaintances. It was a cold day and I was underdressed so there was a bit of shivering going on as I drew this scene. I guess it’s my Arizona roots but I’m always underdressed for the cold.