Confused Weather Makes For Confused Sketchers

“April showers bring May flowers.” – Thomas Tusser (1557)

I have a question.  If you get showers in April, and they continue through May, will there be LOTS of flowers in June?  I sure hope so because Quebecers’ moods, will need a boost.

By date and temperature, we have finally gotten to spring and we sketchers are chomping at the bit to get out sketching.  In fact I witnessed a bunch of them, including myself, wandering around in the rain, looking for stuff to draw.  It was quite a sight.

We were attending the first of a series of plein air painting gatherings organized by the great Denise Bujold – great because she’s done this and because she’s so darn good at it.  There are 16 events scheduled, one a week, throughout the summer and fall.  But for this first one, surprise, surprise, it rained.

It was held at an apple/vegetable farm on Ile d’Orleans, a large island near Quebec City.  When Yvan and I arrived we found a gaggle of sketchers huddled in a large space that houses an art gallery during summer tourist season.  Eventually this group spilled out into the garden adjacent to the building and we literally wandered in the rain, pointing at things we could sketch if the rain would stop.

Eventually we made our way to a place where there was an overhang and a few picnic benches and everyone set up shop to sketch.  Across a field there was this scene and I confess that I didn’t have my heart in it and it shows.  But I did get to sketch, outdoors, and with other people.  That has to count for something.  There was supposed to be another event today but it’s pouring rain so it was cancelled.  I’m in desperate need of some flowers.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), DeAtramentis Document diluted black

 

Memories From Old Toys

We’re still waiting for spring to come to Quebec City.  It’s quite unbelievable that it’s mid-May and the best we can hope for is a rainy, dreary day.  But until things warm up a bit (we had a frost warning last week) we’re sort of stuck going to indoor venues to draw.

We were provided with a new one, though, as the Quebec Historial Society opened a small exhibit of old, mostly tin toys from the 40s to the 60s.  As a kid, I was playing with those produced in the 50s so some were quite familiar to me and brought back memories.  I love tin toys, mostly for this nostalgia I suppose, but they were always so brightly painted to mask their simplistic nature.

I spent much of our session viewing the exhibit and reading all the description cards.  It’s not every day that you get to see and Easy-Bake Oven after all.  But eventually I sat down to draw and I did a poor job of sketching an old wind-up race car from the 40s.  I really need to slow down as the quality of my sketches is directly correlated with the speed in which I do them.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10 softcover), DeAtramentis Document Brn/Blk ink, Daniel Smith watercolors

Hopping Down The Bunny Trail

I’ve been experimenting with using paint before I do any ink, using a brush and paint to do the actual drawing.  This is mostly as a way of getting my brain to realize that there’s value in color.  That’s probably an odd statement to most artists, but I’ve always been more enamoured with using a fountain pens/inks than I have been with “art.”

Anyways, I’ve decided to do more of this paint-first approach and as I also got a dose of drawing my daughter’s collection of stuffed animals with my recent sketch of Dudley the Dragon I grabbed a large rabbit with oversized feet and ears as my subject for the day.

To provide some guidance with respect to proportions and relationships I penciled in the locations/sizes of all the major masses and then started with paint.  Any self-respecting artist would chuckle to watch me sneaking up on the shapes and color patterns.  I started very light, improving the shapes as I went.  In this process I also started identifying tonal variations, trying to figure out how to create them in color.  I’m woefully ill-equipped to do this but I plowed ahead as if I were.  Eventually I added some ink lines just cuz my drawings need ink lines.  Hope you like the result.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10 softcover), Daniel Smith watercolors

Sketching Rabbit/Hare Structure

On Tuesday, Yvan, Claudette and myself headed to the hunting and fishing museum.  We’d just had a huge snowstorm that was a real struggle to clean up because the 11-12 feet of the stuff that has preceded it made it nearly impossible to find a place to put the new snow.  Anyways, it felt really good to head out for a day of sketching.

Unfortunately (for me), that same storm was beating up my joints.  I was limping a bit, but the real problem was my left hand and wrist which made it very hard (impossible?) to draw.  We had fun and I did three sketches, all of which were so full of errors and attempts to fix lines that went off willy-nilly that I’d be too embarrassed to share them.

We were drawing rabbits, however, and that got us discussing the structural underpinnings of a rabbit.  When they sit back on their hind legs, they start looking like a ball of fur and it’s hard to make out what’s really going on inside.  When we got home Yvan and I asked Mr. Google if he could provide us with a rabbit skeleton to study.  He obliged and this morning I drew a rabbit skeleton, well sort of.  My hand was a bit better this morning but it’s still hard to get my lines to flow.  But I do understand lagomorph anatomy just a bit better.

Stillman & Birn Beta (10×7), Pilot Falcon, Sketch Ink Thea (grey)

Sketching Bobinette

Long before Sesame Street, baby boomers cheered on puppets of one form or another as they came to our houses via television.  Television was new back then and we didn’t seem to mind that the shows were goofy, didn’t have any super-heros and not a single explosion upset the simplistic dialog of these shows.

Remember Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob?  The people of Quebec didn’t see them, but they had Bobino and Bobinette and I never saw the Bobino show, so never got to see the marionette Bobinette perform.

Bobinette now stands in our civilization museum, next to Bobino’s suit coat and bowler hat, and while a blizzard was dumping yet another foot of snow on us, I drew her.   I probably should have used color to show off her pink dress and big blue eyes but I settled for a Pilot Kakuno and a brown/black mix of DeAtramentis Document ink.  I hope she’ll make you smile.  We need more smiling these days.

 

Spud Sketching In The Afternoon

Winter is tough on people who like to sketch on location.  We can go to museums, sketch people in coffee shops, and maybe even visit a mall, but there are days when the weather is so bad that we can’t even do that.  What to do, what to do.

Those of you who follow Tina Koyama might have an answer.  You draw fruits and vegetables and since Seattle agreed to take some of the snow headed to Quebec, that’s what she’s been doing.  Recently she ventured beyond bananas, apples and garlic and drew a potato.

I’ve drawn apples, bananas, garlic, pumpkins, peppers, etc. (we get lots of snow), but I’ve never drawn a potato.  Following in Tina’s footsteps, today I drew a potato, or rather two potatoes since that was the road less traveled.

Stillman & Birn Beta (10×7), Pilot Kakuna, DeAtramentis Document Black, Daniel Smith watercolors

Sketching The Alleyways Again

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.

A Bit Of Eye Training

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.

 

 

 

Sketching At A Winery

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.

I decided to draw this scene, not part of the winery but across a field from it.  I was disappointed that I didn’t get more depth into this sketch.

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.

Assembling A Scene From Nature

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.

So one day I decided that I would pick through them, find good examples and then take photos of them so we could throw everything away.

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.