Extreme Urban Sketching

Once upon a time I realized that it was crazy to try to sketch outdoors during Quebec winters.  I wasn’t happy about it, but I accepted it.  Then, along came Marc Taro Holmes, talking about wanting to lose weight by walking and using sketching to motivate himself.  He spoke of wandering Montreal, doing 5-6 minute sketches.  He enticed us with some of the sketches he’d done and threw down a gauntlet, daring someone to join him in this endeavour.  I accepted the challenge.

I knew it was crazy.  I knew I didn’t have the skills that Marc has.  But I was also desperate to sketch outside.  I’ve dedicated a small Stillman & Birn Epsilon softcover to this project.  I was motivated by the realization that doing this could help me develop several skills, presuming I didn’t lose my fingers to frostbite. These skills were:

1) Learn how to hold a sketchbook while sketching

I know… after five years of sketching you’d think I could hold a sketchbook out in front of me and sketch, but I can’t.  I typically sit when I sketch, resting the sketchbook on my lap or, using a larger sketchbook stuffed into my gut, I can sketch while standing.  Holding a small sketchbook (3×5) in one hand while drawing with the other – not on your life.

2) Improve my ability to draw something with fewer lines

I draw in either a cartoon or illustrative style.  To do this quickly is nearly impossible, at least for me because there are just too many lines and too much detail.  To draw quickly one must learn to identify which lines are important and draw only those.  I’m really bad at this and want to get better.

3) Improve my ability to simplify a scene so as to capture it quickly

I still get overwhelmed by the world around me, lacking the skill to see a scene on paper that reflects what I see but without extraneous details.

 

So with this as my motivation, and having agreed to be part of Marc’s project, I went out sketching.  The first day it was -14C, but it wasn’t very windy.  I set a timer and started drawing.  I think my timer is broken because the time passes far too quickly and my results were horrible.  But I know that early results are always horrible so I wasn’t put off by the results.  Here’s a couple of them.

The next day I was greeted by -20C and a bit of a breeze.  It was really cold.  I reminded myself that if Marc could do it, so could I.  I sketched.  I walked.  I sketched some more.

Then it turned cold(er).  When the temps were -22C and below reason kicked in and I stayed indoors.   We entered a series of days with snow, rain, and more cold, which led to ice, making walking impossible.  So I stayed inside some more.

Eventually the weather improved and I was back at it again.  I’d resolved to do 100 of these sketches.  My sketchbook was still moving around almost as much as my pen so there was a randomness in the line work.  Here are a couple more examples.

More days passed; more walking and sketching took place.  It was still frustrating but I noticed that my sketchbook was slowing down; it was becoming easier to keep up with it.

So far I’ve done 20 of these little scribbles.  When it’s not too cold, it’s even starting to be fun.  I’m beginning to think that by the time I get the 100th sketch done I may have made progress on all three of my goals.  In any case I’m getting to do some outdoor sketching and that’s a good thing.  Here are the last couple drawings I’ve done.  I think I’ve moved from doing horrible sketches to doing bad sketches.  I consider that a win.  I’ve quickly added quick bits of color to these to see how they’d look with color.  Extreme urban sketching is challenging but fun.

Winter Chill Means Sketching At The Museum

It’s winter and so my feet move me, without thought, to the local museum for sketching sessions.  This day was no different and I found myself in the tiny “attic” display of all sorts of stuff, including this shelf.  I probably drew it smaller than I should have but what the heck – I use less ink this way (grin).

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8.5×5.5), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Black

Sketching in the First Nations Exhibit

One of the permanent exhibits at our Museé de la civilisation reflects the First Nations of Canada.  It’s a wonderful exhibit that leans heavy on videos and audio, but that also holds a large collection of First Nations artifacts that are good sketching subjects.

I was there on Thursday and decided to draw a “scene” that amounted to a large, floor drum and a manikin wearing ceremonial garb.  The manikin was hard to deal with as a sketcher because it was black foam and almost without a face.  The dark room, dark outfit and dark manikin did make drawing the figure difficult. Like all my moving of pens around on paper, it was fun and made the day a good one.

Stillman & Birn Beta, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

The Best New Product Of 2016 – Stillman & Birn Softcovers

I was reflecting on my sketching adventures of 2016 and it occurred to me that one 2016 product changed how I approach location sketching and how weird it was.  You see, since 2011 I’ve been using Stillman & Birn sketchbooks almost exclusively as my quality sketchbook of choice.  I’ve written about why.  I’ve talked about my preference for 10×7 spiral-bound Alpha books and how great they were.  But I don’t use them any more.  I still have an empty one sitting on a shelf and it’s been there for over a year, untouched.

I’ve moved on… a better product came along in the spring of 2016.  It’s the new softcover books from Stillman & Birn.  Same fantastic papers but they’re thinner, lighter, and they hold up to my abusive nature.  These books also added 3.5×5.5 portrait format to their line.  I’m convinced that all my whining about the lack of a small portrait book with good quality paper (the Moleskine sketchbook is horrible) is why they are now producing this book.  They wanted to shut me up (grin).  I love these little books.

S&B also added an 8×10 softcover format that I’ve fallen in love with.  It fits better in my bags than the more typical 8.5×11 or 9×12 formats but more important, with Beta paper, it weighs only 412gm while a hardcover version weights 870gm, though the hardcover does have a few more pages.  What this means to me is that I now carry 3.5×5.5 and 8×10 (portrait), and an 8.5×5.5 landscape books with me and all three weigh less than a single 8.5×11 hardcover.

These are the S&B softcovers I’ve used in 2016.  The numbers are simply volume numbers that I assign chronologically to my sketchbooks.  And because someone will ask, I use S&B exclusively for my non-casual sketching but I do use cheap sketchbooks when I doodle while watching TV and when quick-sketching people on the street.  Number 52 is actually a 9×12 wire-bound S&B Beta book, but the others (53, 54, 56, 58) are those cheaper books.  I cut 60lb spiral-bound 9×12 sketchbooks in half on my bandsaw, creating two 6×9 books.  These provide me with LOTS of cheap drawing surface.  These are full and on the shelf, products of 2016, but #61 is still ‘in progress’ and rests next to where I put my butt when I watch TV.

But it’s the Stillman & Birn softcovers that are the subject of this blog post and, as Tony the tiger used to say, They’rrrre GREAT!  They should get a product of the year award, or something.

Various Thoughts At The End Of The Year

This post will seem a bit disorganized.  That’s cuz it’s a bit disorganized, or at least my thoughts about it are disorganized.  But I want to wrap up the year by talking about a couple things and I’ll throw in a sketch just to keep it interesting.

Stillman & Birn source for Canadians

Lots of people have asked me where to buy Stillman & Birn sketchbooks in Canada.  Sadly, Canadian suppliers are simply horrible when it comes to fulfilling the needs of urban sketchers and none of them are a reliable source for S&B sketchbooks.  Even Amazon.ca, who list them, do so at such ridiculous prices that nobody in their right mind would pay that for them.

Thus, I’ve never had an answer to give to those asking about S&B, until now.  I realized that Jackson Art Supplies in the UK has them… the entire S&B product line.  And what’s good about Jacksons is that they, like several UK online sellers, “get it.”  By that I mean they’ve figured out that if they sell to 7 billion of the Earth’s inhabitants, they are better off than selling only within their country.  If only the US would figure this out.  Anyways, Jackson Art Supplies will ship ANYWHERE for FREE if you buy 39GBR or more from them.  I’ve ordered from them a couple times and they’re great to deal with so if you want S&B, there’s a place where you can get them.

(ed note:  Susan King just informed me that Opus Art in Vancouver is not stocking the full line of Stillman & Birn softcovers which is really good news.)

New Year’s Resolution???

I’m probably notorious for doing a bah humbug when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions and each year I say as much in a blog post.  This year I won’t do that because, I guess, in a casual way, I’m making a resolution.

I’ve decided to talk more about my drawing process on the blog.  I’ve avoided that thus far because I don’t really know what I’m doing and a lot of other people are much better equipped than I when it comes to discussing drawing.  But I’ve realized that I have something they don’t.  Because I’m relatively new to this I’m able to remember the kinds of struggles I had when I started.  Besides I know what I do more than anyone else and that’s what people ask me about.  I don’t know how or what I’m going to talk about and I don’t know when. I just hope to do it.  See…it’s just like a resolution 🙂

Turning the page to 2017

I’m finishing up two more sketchbooks so I can start with a couple new ones in 2017.  I still have an Stillman and Birn 8.5×5.5 with about 15 pages left so that one will drift into 2017 but I’ll be starting new 8×10 Beta and 3.5×5.5 Alpha softcover books.

I did a bunch of small sketches to finish up the little one and I have one page left in the larger one.  There’s a guy on Instagram that does a lot of loose motorcycle sketches and he really impresses me with his simplicity of line and confidence of purpose.  I’ve tried to replicate some of his sketches but have never been successful.  I decided to draw a motorcycle from memory of his sketches.  The result isn’t as good as his and not nearly as loose, but that’s how Larry rolls after all.  And yes, I’m now talking about myself in the third person.  If it’s good enough for Trump, shouldn’t it be good enough for me?

I’m anxious to get started with 2017 sketching and I hope the year ahead is a productive and happy one for all of you.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Platinum 3776