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

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.

Last Trip To The Museum Before Christmas

With my daughter coming home for Christmas, and Chantal getting a few days off, I won’t be doing any location sketching for a while.  But I did go with the gang to the museum for a pre-holiday sketching session.  They wanted to sketch some of the folk art nativity scene that is now in place there.  If nothing else, it demonstrates imagination on the part of its creator.  Have you ever seen a flying cow-fish?

I decided to sketch a wooden carving of a fusilier in another part of the museum.  It is fairly large, almost telephone pole diameter and quite black, as though it had been creosote treated.  In spite of this, it suffers from severe cracking in places.  Nevertheless, it’s an impressive carving, far more impressive than my sketch of it I’m afraid.  I got caught between wanting to include detail and the fact that the entire left side was in deep shadow, almost black.  Like every sketch, though, it was fun to do which is why I do them.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10) softcover, Platinum Carbon ink, Platinum 3776 pen

When I finished I headed up to the nativity scene and found everyone busy drawing.  They were talking about getting coffee, though, so I just sat down and waited for them.  The thing is, I can’t sit for very long without getting out a sketchbook and I did this quick sketch of Lisette, busy sketching some wooden guy (I think, but I was too far away to know for sure) in a large glass case.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8.5×5.5) softcover


I’ll probably put together some sort of post during the holidays but I’m not sure what.  I willl be spending lots of time eating and sketching, though, so there will probably be something to post.  In the meantime, and since it’s December 23rd,

Happy Festivas

Off To Sketcher Museum Land

While our Museum of Civilization doesn’t have much to offer a sketcher this winter, it is pretty much the only game in town so a group of us were there, trying to take stock of sketching subjects for winter.

I’ve decided that I will sketch a bunch of the Inuit soapstone carvings because 1) they are available and 2) they offer lots of compound curves and soft edges to challenge my drawing skill.  Hopefully I’ll get better at them but until then, here are a couple that I did on Thursday.  Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5) softcover.

This is an Inuit hunter, hiding behind a hide-covered shield, trying to sneak up on a seal.

This is an Inuit hunter, hiding behind a hide-covered shield, trying to sneak up on a seal.


This one speaks volumes of the rigors of living in the extreme north. This woman, wearing parka and gloves is shown giving birth. That's tough work if ever I've seen it.

This one speaks volumes about the rigors of living in the extreme north. This woman, wearing a parka and gloves is shown giving birth. That’s tough work if ever I’ve seen it.

Trying To Sketch Cirque D’Soleil Wannabes

[Note: I wrote this last week and forgot to push the “publish” button.  Here it is, albeit it’s a bit of old news]

Once a year I have a very humbling sketching experience.  Actually, I have a lot of those but this annual event is particularly impactful.  A group of us go to the local École de Cirque, a circus school in an old church, to sketch the circus students while they practice.  Quite separate from sketching, it’s a very exciting time because the main hall is full of trampolines, trapezes, and open areas where these very talented people practice their trade.  If nothing else it informs your brain that hard work is the road to being “talented.”

Done with Lamy ink, melted with a waterbrush. These were 'warm ups' before we actually entererd the hall.

Done with Lamy ink, melted with a waterbrush. These were ‘warm ups’ done before we actually entererd the hall.

For me to begin sketching at the École de Cirque is hard for two reasons.  The first is that I’m simply mesmerized by what is before me.  There was a juggler who was balancing a ring on his head while juggling several other rings, passing smaller ones through the ring on his head as he juggled.  He was amazing.

The other reason I have a hard time is that it’s just soooooo hard.  I’m not good at sketching people anyway, but I can hold my own when sketching people who are sitting or standing and I even have a good chance at capturing people wandering around in a shopping center.  In all these cases, though, I have points of reference.  Feet on the ground, heads above feet… at least that.  But in the case of circus performers I don’t even have that and I get very confused, very quickly.

I switched to a Duke 209 (fude pen) and waterproof ink. I struggle with fude pens but wanted to give them another try. Color was added after the fact and in somewhat haphazard fashion I confess.

I switched to a Duke 209 (fude pen) and waterproof ink. I struggle with fude pens but wanted to give them another try. Color was added after the fact and in somewhat haphazard fashion I confess.

There’s another thing and I wonder if I’m the only one who struggles with this.  I can’t convince my brain that I actually have time to sketch these people.  My brain seems to decide that if I can’t do the sketch in 10-15 seconds, I can’t do a sketch, which is untrue, even with the performers moving around so much.  But my brain directs me to give up completely on size and proportion estimation and to just start scribbling – the end result being people that look like space aliens or melted people.  I’m sharing some of these with you as an example of poor sketches that were a lot of fun to do.  Too often I think fun and product get tied too closely together by many.  They have nothing to do with one another.

Stillman & Birn Alpha softcover (5.5x8.5) sketchbook was used for all these sketches. I really love this format for doing this sort of sketching

Stillman & Birn Alpha softcover (5.5×8.5) sketchbook was used for all these sketches. I really love this format for doing this sort of sketching.

Somehow, during the page above I decided that a divide and conquer strategy was in order, or maybe I was just fascinated how the well-muscled athletes provided a great opportunity to do “life drawing” while muscles were being exercised.  That turned out to be a lot of fun.

2016-10-28circus42016-10-28circus52016-10-28circus6In the end, I had a bunch of sketchbook pages and memories.  Memories of how amazing these people were; memories of how hard it was for me to draw them, and memories of how much fun sketching is even if it’s not going as well as I’d like.  I thought it only fitting for me to share these pages with you.  I hope all of you are saying “I can do better than that” (grin)


Are Sketching Doldrums A Thing?

Every November I go through a down period when it comes to sketching.  It’s sort of like I’ve got the clutch disengaged as I change gears.  In the meantime my brain is spinning in neutral.  My daily outdoor sketching routine comes to an end and I’m waffling around, trying to figure out how I’m going to survive the winter as a sketcher in Quebec City.  This year is particularly bad because out provincial ‘austerity’ plan has gutted the budgets of the few local museums in Quebec City and so my typical winter haunts are nearly barren.

But I did meet our tiny group at the main library and we sketched one morning last week so I’ll share those little sketches with you.  All were done in my tiny Stillman & Birn Alpha (3.5×5.5) softcover sketchbook.

2016-10-27library1The sketch on the left was the last outdoor sketch I did this year.  I was leaning against a wall, trying to keep warm and I drew very quickly, but not quick enough as I gave up before I could start adding any details to it.  It’s here only because it’s on the same spread as the sketch on the right which was the first sketch I did at the library.  From the 2nd floor of the library you can see this building across the street.

img_20161031_194456289When I finished I went hunting for my fellow sketchers and found them sketching a display in the kid book section.  This winter will see me doing a lot of these quick sketches of people.  Maybe, with the help of recent books by Pete Scully and Lynne Chapman I’ll figure out how to do them better.

2016-10-27library3When I finished with those sketches I went looking for a third member of our group and found her upstairs, sketching the street below.  She was near to finishing and we were all going to meet for an early lunch, so I quickly did a few more real quick sketches of people who were reading.  Here’s two of them.

As I’ve suggested, I’m not sure where my sketching will go this winter.  There are several things I’d like to work on this winter and, I suppose, I’ll be doing a bunch of ‘studio’ sketching this winter.  Wish I had a studio (grin).

Sketching A Mineral Display

We’re entering sketching winter in Quebec City.  This is when the notion of street sketching is absurd and so we’ve got to start looking for hard to find indoor locations to feed our urges to put pen to paper.

I got an email from Claudette telling me about permission she obtained for us to sketch a rock display in the lobby of one of the government buildings.  My initial reaction was “huh?” and an assumption that I didn’t understand the French (my default reaction to most things because it is generally true).  I love drawing rock cliffs and even piles of rocks but a geologic display of rocks?  Didn’t make sense.

I almost didn’t go but I’m glad I did as it was a lot more fun than I thought it would be.  Besides it was warm inside and raining outside.  During the morning session I drew three rocks, a green one, an almost clear one, and a yellow one.  I’d give you more details about these minerals but that’s all I know.  Geology is not my thing.  The results aren’t great art but they do represent a lot of fun and I’d love to have another shot at drawing some of these unique and complex shapes.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5), Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5), Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776


Late Fall Sketching Is The Best

Ever notice that when things come as a surprise they’re just a bit better?  We’re experiencing some late fall weather that’s been really great and it’s extended my outdoor sketching season.  This surprise has been sweetened even more by my boss and true love (some call her my wife) wanting to sketch with me.  Life is great.

We found ourselves on Ile d’Orleans, the island I’ve mentioned in recent posts and we were back in the park I discussed here.  Chantal wanted to sketch the large hotel building and I sat down to sketch an old house on that sits on a hill in the park.

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

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Brown

When I finished up I went looking for Chantal and found her working away on her sketch.  Not wanting to interrupt her, I sat down and started doodling details of the building she was drawing.  I need to do this more often cuz it’s fun… lots of fun.  I probably could have organized them better on the page but I gave that no thought as I just kept scibbling until the pages were full.  You might want to click on the graphic to enlarge it a bit.  Do you ever do this?

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black


Getting Away From The Noise

For the last few weeks our street has been under construction.  The city is replacing sewer/water lines, repaving the street, replacing our sidewalks, installing new streetlights and, hopefully, they’re going to re-sod the parts of our lawns that are currently torn up.

What does this have to do with sketching?  Not much I suppose except that Chantal and I were all full up with the noise, particularly the beep, beep, beep of trucks and machinery backing up.  So we left.

We drove out to Ile d’Orleans, the large island I mentioned a couple posts ago.  We headed directly to La Boulange, a little slice of heaven that overlooks the St. Lawrence and that has great coffee and pastries.  During our visit we also learned that they have fantastic pesto pizza.  We enjoyed good food, sunshine and some quiet as we at on their veranda.

2016-09-21-60laboulangestatueThe only sketch I did from that location was this little quickie (maybe five minutes) that I scribbled into a small Stillman & Birn (3.5×5.5) sketchbook.  The bit of color was splashed on from a 4-color palette I carry, using a waterbrush as my splashing device.

When the pizza, coffee and pastry was gone we decided to head to the other side of the island (north side) to visit the large church, and its associated park because it’s a great place to sketch.  Chantal wanted to sketch the gazebo that sits at one end of the park.  I decided that was a pretty good idea and we enjoyed some more sun as we sat together sketching.  This was my result.  It was really nice to get away from the noise and we returned refreshed and ready for another round of beep, beep, beep.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8.5x5.5), Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8.5×5.5), Platinum 3776

A Perfect Sketching Day On Ile d’Orleans

Just east of Quebec City, in the St. Lawrence River, there is a huge island that is filled with farms, vineyards, and about a gazillion apple trees.  We go there in early summer to pick strawberries.  Mostly though, we go there to sketch because the small towns that run around its perimeter are full of sketchable subjects and because it’s “out in the country.”

At one of our gatherings Miram Blair came to sketch with us and she offered for us to come to her summer cottage on the island and since there aren’t many outdoor sketching days left in our year, I decided to contact her and arrange for us to descend upon her like sketchbook-carrying locusts.  She graciously agreed to host us.

As it turned out, only three of us could go but go we did, arriving about 10AM on a cold, blustery day.  As it turned out, Miriam doesn’t just have a cottage.  She has a huge barn and a bunch of land associated with her cottage and her cottage has a huge room that serves as kitchen, dining room, and studio.  It’s also a little slice of heaven.  No wonder Miriam is always in a good mood.

We decided to sketch outdoors first, in spite of the wind and the threat of rain.  We figured we could sketch until we got too cold and then head indoors to sketch the amazing stuff Miriam has hanging on her walls, sitting in window frames, and on cabinets in the large room.

I, being the consummate sissy, decided that I couldn’t sit in the wind so I took up a position just inside the door of the barn and drew this scene.  I’d taken a large folding chair with me because my back was still barking at me and, as it turned out, I was really comfortable and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I never really finished the sketch.  I just stopped when everyone went inside.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8x10), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Brown, Zig brush pen

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Pilot Falcon, DeAtramentis Document Brown, Zig brush pen

The brave folks, the ones who sat in the wind and drew the barn, were cold so we made our way into the house and for the rest of our time with Miriam, that’s where we stayed.  It was soooooooo much fun.

I spent a lot of time just looking at all the stuff Miriam has collected, mostly during local walks from the looks of the bird nests, shells, driftwood, etc. that graced her room.  She has two long tables, set end to end and a dozen beautiful wooden chairs lining their sides.  We used a few of them as we ate lunch, flipped through art books, and talked.

Eventually, though, we got back to drawing and I chose this scene.  When I started I wasn’t sure how successful I could be with it but I sure had fun doing it.  It’s a very different kind of drawing than my typical building sketches as I had to do a bunch of visual planning to get the bottles in the right places.  In the end, though, I was really happy with it as it captured the spirit that is Miriam’s place.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8x10), Platinum 3776

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

Stillman & Birn (4x6), Duke 209, DeAtramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (3.5×5.5), Duke 209, DeAtramentis Document Black

Miriam has a small dog named Nicki.  He and I became friends and he sat with me while I did my first sketch and because I gave him a bite of my sandwich 🙂  But as we were packing up to leave, Nicki was laying on the floor and in spite of three sketchers who were all around him as we packed up our gear, he wouldn’t budge.  I grabbed my small sketchbook and did this quick sketch of him.  It was a great end to a perfect day.