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.
A guy I follow on Instagram (@lefthandeddrawer) posted a graphic showing tiny, daily sketches he did for the month of January. That looked fun to me so I started doing it for the month of February. Being the lazy sort I did pick the shortest month of the year and it worked out nicely. Each square is 4cm. I’ll say no more except that you can see a larger view of this by clicking on the graphic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.