Life Of A Sketchless Sketcher

I made another trip to our museum.  I’m still amazed at how tired I can become just getting there, but got there I did.  It’s the last week of the Hergé exhibition and I hadn’t actually viewed it seriously.  The exhibit emphasizes the process of creating Tin Tin, Herge’s famous comic series and so there’s lots to read and look at.  Not much to draw.

I hobbled around the exhibit, reading everything and studying the artwork.  It’s a really good exhibit in my opinion.  But finally I had to sit down, completely exhausted.  It must be the weight of the cane that’s wearing me out (grin).

After a while I decided that I needed to draw something, so I combined getting a cup of coffee with drawing one of the weather vanes on display in the cafeteria.  It’s not much and like eating a single Gummi bear, not quite enough, but it formed a satisfying end to yet another sketchless sketcher day.

Good Advice: Do Something Different

You hear it all the time.  Try a new medium.  Draw something different.  Use a different approach.  Sometimes this advice is given to help kick start an artist who is struggling to find motivation.  Sometimes it’s give in the name of developing new abilities.

For me, at this time, it’s good advice on both counts.  I’m starting to get back on my feet, though some days are better than others.  Drawing at home is a possibility but I’ve talked about how hard it is for me to be motivated to do that as I’ve spent five years doing most of my drawing on location.  But I have other struggles, one of which is that I tend to use watercolors as crayons and my color applications flatten, rather than enhance the 3D nature of my sketches.

I started with this light pen drawing, done with a Kaweco Lilliput and Kaweco Stormy Grey ink.

So…I give you something different…really different.  There are no such worms in Quebec City, though worms in my head is believable.  This one was inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and a steady stream of fantasy characters that emerge from the brain of Daniel Potvin when he picks up a brush.  My goal was to try to use watercolors to generate 3D surfaces and while far from perfect, I was pleased with the result.  While it’s not urban sketching, it is certainly a new kind of fun and I’ll do more of it in my attempt to figure out watercolors.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Daniel Smith watercolors

The Return: Baby Steps With A Limp

I’m embarrassed that I’ve gone so long without a blog post, not much sketching, not much of anything.  I’m beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, though.  My leg is no longer the size of a telephone pole and my knee bends again.  More important, while I’m not completely pain free, the pain is not constant so I can begin to think about other things.

I’m still lacking in energy but I went sketching for the first time last week.  It wasn’t a successful trip by most measures but it was nice to see the gang and the trip made me feel as though I was on the mend.  We went to the civilisation museum where their main exhibition right now is from France and presents the works of cartoonist, Herge, a Belge cartoonist best known for his Tin Tin character.

I got on the bus and headed to the museum. The trip, one I used to walk in 40 minutes, seemed more like a crossing the Alps adventure than a simple trip across town.  By the time I got there I was exhausted but also excited to see everyone.

Some wanted to draw character images glued to the side of the building.  We could see some of them from a large window and people set up to draw.  Honestly, it seemed sort of silly to draw these simple characters but the truth was, they fit my energy level and ability to engage with a subject very well.  I spent about 15 minutes drawing these.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

This quite literally wore me out and I spent the rest of the session sitting around, talking and looking at a bit of the Herge exhibition.

This week I found myself better able to walk and with even less pain.  I’ve started doing some doodling at home and even managed to get some winterizing stuff done on the weekend.  Still lacking energy but even that had improved.  On Wednesday I hopped a bus to the library where we were going to draw from comics.  Seems there’s a theme developing here.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

It was a wonderful session, though my lack of energy, and probably my hiatus from drawing, showed when I tried to draw some of my favorite cartoon characters.  I began drawing Corto, a very famous Hugo Pratt character.  Pratt is an Italian cartoonist and one of my favorites.

As I look at this small sketch I can’t help but reflect on how tired I was when I finished it.  I spent the next half hour just flipping through comics, mindlessly looking at the graphics.

Ultimately, though, I decided to draw Obelix, one of the main characters in the Asterix series of comics that taught most French kids early European history.  Asterix and his buddies are Gauls and the bad guys are Romans.  Obelix was Asterix’s super-strong friend, his loyal sidekick.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Namiki Falcon

We ended that day with a cup of coffee and the sketching banter I have so missed over the past six weeks.  When I got home I took a nap, but I’m getting there…taking baby steps with a limp.

Trying To Get Out With My Friends

Several weeks ago I got to meet a new sketcher.  She and her husband had moved to Quebec City and she wanted to hook up with local sketchers.  We met for a sketching session and had a great time.

Then I started having mobility problems and time after time, we couldn’t manage to get together for another session.  I was both frustrated and embarrassed by this and so when she asked if we could go sketching last week I said yes and we agreed to meet near the large fountain in front of the Quebec Parliament.  Yvan came along as well.

I limped my way to the site and sat on a bench.  It was really great to be out in the fresh air and to get to talk with friends but I was hurting so much that sketching didn’t seem important.  Still, there I was and so I started by drawing three young children who are part of the fountain.

I spent more time just sitting than I did drawing but I just kept adding small sketches of things I could see from my position.  No rhyme or reason to it; I was just sketching, or trying.  It wasn’t urban sketching at its best but it was urban sketching I suppose (grin).  For what it’s worth, the guy in front of the lamp post wasn’t actually leaning against it; he was part of the fountain too.  The lamp post was actually across the street from the fountain.  While he is shirtless, we were wearing jackets.

Temporary Loss Of An Urban Sketching Tool

Have you ever lost pens, paints, brushes, etc. while out urban sketching.  I have.  Several years ago I lost my entire paint kit somewhere between sketching site and home and that loss was traumatic.  The palette was inexpensive, the case was a favorite, and that kit contained several Escoda sable travel brushes.  I nearly cried.  But all of it was replaceable and my sketching regime hardly skipped a beat.

I’m dealing with another loss, however, and I while I hope it’s temporary, it’s much harder to overcome.  I’ve lost my ability to walk more than across the room.  It started with my ankle and then my knee.  Right now the leg between the two is the size of a telephone pole and I’m spending a lot of time with doctors.

If I were a “true” urban sketcher I suppose I’d be sharing lots of sketches of medical machinery but I’m not that kind of urban sketcher, I suppose.  Besides, the pain and stress have been distracting.  I won’t bore you with details but I’ve been diagnosed and I’ve just started some physiotherapy yesterday that sounds encouraging.  The ramifications for this blog is that because I can’t wander the streets of Quebec City, I can’t draw the streets of Quebec City so the nature of my sketches will probably change, at least in the short term.  Irony of ironies, I’ve waited all summer for decent weather and we’re finally getting a string of beautiful days.  Such is my luck sometimes.

The upside is that this is a good opportunity to do some experimentation and maybe I can even convince myself that I can draw from a photograph and enjoy it.  For now, I leave you with a sketch I did after hobbling along a beach on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River last week.

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

Last Trip To Ottawa For A While

We made our final trip to Ottawa for a while.  Our daughter just graduated from University of Ottawa and we moved her to Montreal where she’s entering law school at McGill.  I gotta tell ya, I’m too old to be moving from school to school.  Been there, done that, even have souvenir t-shirts.

But since we were there, it seemed only appropriate that I should do some sketching.  The first chance came when we agreed to meet our daughter in Rideau River Park.  I don’t know if that’s what it’s really called but it runs along the Rideau River and Chantal and I had parked our butts on a bench while we waited, so its Rideau River park to me.

I got out a Stillman & Birn 6×6 Beta spiral book and just started quick-sketching everything and anything.  No rhyme or reason to it, which is fun sometimes.  Find a white space on the paper and fill it – easy peasy.  Here’s a couple of the pages I did.

I drew stuff; I drew people, and I even drew some of the birds on the river.  But then my daughter showed up and there were other things to do.  We hadn’t seen her in a while.

A couple days later, Chantal and I went down to the Parliament area and sat on a picnic bench in the shade.  I’m showing this next sketch to make a point to those who feel “I’m not good enough” to sketch around other people.  I was scribbling this teeny, tiny sketch (3×4) in the tiny sketchbook I mentioned in a previous blog post.  I’ve been having fun doing these really tiny sketches but they’re really crude and mostly just warm up sketches. Even that gives them too much credential.

Anyways, a really nice lady from Italy asked if she could sit because she was waiting to take the Parliament tour.  Chantal started talking with her, she saw my sketch and got genuinely excited about it.  She took a photo of it to show to her friends.  My point is, people are amazed that anyone can draw anything.  You don’t have to be good to sketch in public.  You just have to sketch in public for people to think you’re good (grin).

I started drawing this next sketch because we were sitting right near the corner of a building called East Block on the Parliament grounds and we  were on a hill, affording an interesting view where I wasn’t having to look up a lot to see the top of the building.

While I was working, a Chinese family from Manitoba came to sit.  They were waiting for a tour too.  Their son, a young teenager was excited to see someone drawing and showed us a couple of the sketches he’d done.  He wanted to be an animator and was making a good start at it.  They watched as I did this sketch and I confess that half a dozen people asking questions was a bit distracting, but Chantal fielded many of them so we sort of formed a temporary clan as I sketched and they waited for their tour.

Chantal and I were both getting hungry so we headed off to forage.  Once sustained we decided to go sit in the center of the busiest intersection in Ottawa.  Well, sorta.  There is a triangular piece of land near Parliament with a lot of traffic passing on all sides.  This place is filled with statues, including a memorial to Canadian military actions complete with honor guard.

I drew the Laura Secord statue, the famous candy lady.  Some defend her statue status with stories of her running for kilometers to warn the British of an impending attack by Americans during the war of 1812 but I know its the chain of chocolate stores that brought her fame.  It just had to be, though most deny she had anything to do with the candy business.

When I finished that sketch I was getting pretty tired but I quickly draw this part of Chateau Laurier, a posh hotel that’s nearby.  All sorts of errors in this one but it was a fitting end to the sketching day.  When I was done we headed off to meet our daughter for dinner.

The Hurrier I Go, The Behinder I Get

I shouldn’t write titles like that.  Some of my Francophone buddies will be saying, “Ca va dire quoi?” and file it away as further evidence that I’m a crazy person.  Apologies.

It’s been a week since I’ve posted.  The reason, in part, is because I’ve been gone for a week, to Ottawa and Montreal.  While I had to share my sketching time with other activities, I’ve got scanning to do before I can post my sketches from that trip.  I’ve also got sketches from before the trip.  I’m so disorganized at this point.

In the meantime, here’s a sketch I did before I left.  It’s a small shed and basement access to the Maison Dorion-Coulomb, the home of the St. Charles River park association.  Everyone draws the front of this beautiful, multi-gabled house from the front, including me, but I thought it fitting to give a bit of love to the lesser portions of the building.  Besides, I could sit in the shade.  Back soon, with more.

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×6 spiral)

Montreal Day 1: Drawing With Paint

I’m a lucky guy because I’ve had the opportunity to sketch with Marc Taro Holmes on occasion.  Not only is he one of the best sketchers in the world, he’s also a really nice guy and it’s really fun to sketch with him.  But this past weekend was really special because I was sketching with him and I was going to meet Liz Steel and Anne-Laure Jacquart because they were visiting Marc and Shari in Montreal.

On Thursday, though, it was just Marc and I and we headed towards Mont Royal Cemetery to draw statues.  Along the way we stopped, set up shop on the sidewalk, and drew a wonderful house, undoubtedly built just so we could sketch it.  I’m afraid I got a bit clumsy and heavy-handed with the paint on this one but I present the results anyways.  That’s just the kind of guy I am (grin).

Fabriano Artistico 140CP, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Marc has started skipping the pen stuff and he’s drawing directly with paint and we started talking about that as we walked along.  Marc’s not a guy who does a hard-sell on anything but he has a way of making you want to try new things.  And so I did.  This is the first time I’ve ever done anything with paint that wasn’t coloring inside the lines and, well, I have a lot to learn.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8.5×5.5), Daniel Smith watercolors

Undaunted by all the things I didn’t understand about this process, I continued, doing this second statue.

This was definitely one of those experiences that taught me more about what I didn’t know than how to do it.  I’ve been wanting to integrate paint more directly in my thought process, as in include it in the thought process rather than considering it only as an afterthought.  This drawing with paint idea might generate a bunch of bad drawings, but I think it’s going to get me doing what I should be doing with paint if I’m going to learn how to use it properly.  These are some of the things/ideas that spilled from the process and things I need to work on:

  1. Work in both negative and positive space to define shapes.
  2. Paint must be mixed thicker than wash consistency to be an effective drawing tool.
  3. To achieve light colors that are sufficiently thick for drawing requires mixing light neutral colors into the mix.  Marc uses DS Buff Titanium and Holbein’s Davey’s Gray for this.
  4. Large contrasts between foreground and background pay large dividends.
  5. Oh…and this is probably the most important thing I’ve learned.  Larry needs a LOT more brush time cuz he can’t draw a straight line with a brush to save his soul.

At this point it was looking like rain and we were both hungry so we hopped on the metro and headed for lunch.  I guess we’re not dedicated sketchers because we sat eating sandwiches and talked about the future of urban sketching the rest of the afternoon, not lifting pen nor brush the rest of the day.  But, as Scarlett said, “Tomorrow is another day,” and we had a big day planned.

Draw The Cool Stuff First, Then Stop

I’m the sort that just draws stuff.  My sketching lacks attempts to generate good compositions, to capture large panoramic scenes, or achieve balance and unity.  I simply draw stuff that interests me.  I realize these other things matter but for me, the fun comes from making lines on a page.  What they define is a very low priority for me.  Goofy view of art, I know, but it is mine.  I’m trying hard to learn these other things, to worry about them, and somehow bring them to my sketches, but sometimes I just like to draw the cool thing and then stop.

Along Rue St. Paul, across from the train station, there are some really great old buildings with lots of gables, towers, and, as my dad used to call it, “gingerbread” that makes them special.  I was walking along and decided to draw one of the towers on a corner building.  But this building goes a long way in both directions, with a bunch of windows and cables.  I didn’t want to spend that much time on it, so I just drew the cool part and stopped.  I was happy with that result.

Too Far Away, And The Need To Make It Interesting

I was walking along the river and decided to draw part of the skyline.  From where I was, these buildings were very small, and very far away.  I decided that I could “improve” things by drawing the buildings larger/closer to me so I put on my ZOOM brain and went to work.

There was only one problem with that idea.  If the buildings were close, I should be able to see a bunch of details.  I could not and so I started stumbling around (figuratively) trying to figure out what details I “needed” to imaginate.  This is harder than it sounds and clearly I need to think about this a lot.  I’m used to drawing what I see and I always err on the side of too much detail, which is the opposite of what I should probably doing here.  So much to learn, so little time.