Just Me, The Kids, And The Dinosaurs

When we returned from Toronto we wanted to spend a few more hours in Ottawa, preferably not walking a gazillion steps, before we piled in the car and pointed it towards Quebec City.  Somehow, and I’m still wondering how, it was decided that we should walk, just shy of a gazillion steps, to the Canadian Museum of Nature , where we would ALL sketch.  Yep, you heard that right.  My wife and daughter produced sketchbooks and we all headed to the museum.  Maybe I was dreaming.

I wanted to draw in the dinosaur rooms.  They wanted to draw mammals.  We split up and agreed to meet in a couple hours.  Group sketching is always fun, but amounts to people getting together so they can ignore each other for extended periods of time.  This is punctuated by greeting each other again and the intense kibbitzing that friends do when they haven’t talked in a while.  We sketchers are a crazy lot but we’re having more fun than most people.

And so it was as I headed off to draw more bones.  But I didn’t.  I went into a room where they had a room-sized diorama, with two Tyranosauruses (Tyranosaurusii??)  looking over a walkway, mouths open and looking hungry.  On the other side were two Tricerotops in defensive positions.  I’m no James Gurney but I had to try to draw one of these guys.  I also got to draw in one of the new 9×12 Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbooks.  I think I’m going to like this size, though it does present some scanning issues.

Stillman & Birn Beta (9x12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (9×12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

As I drew I learned that this was a prime stop for school tours.  They bring the kids in and ask them questions like “What do you think these Tyranosauruses eat?” and “Do you think they are hungry?”  And as the kids stand between the participants in this confrontation between predator and prey their eyes get big and they become very quiet.  It’s fun to watch.

And the kids were lots of fun.  They’re always curious.  They can relate to people drawing better than adults can.  But they are reluctant to talk until you look up and say hi.  Then the fun begins.  One kid wanted to buy my sketch.  Another said, “Hey, that looks just like a dinosaur.”  But mostly we talked about how much fun it was to be at the museum.  It was a very good morning.

Best of all, when I met up with family, they’d had fun sketching lions, rabbits, pikas, bats, and owls.  They were smiling.  And we only had “just shy of a gazillion steps” to walk to get back to where the car was parked.

My Stillman & Birn Quest

One of the expenses of living in Quebec City is shipping.  I have to order most of my art supplies online as there simply isn’t a place to buy what I need here.  So, when I get the opportunity to visit places like Ottawa and Toronto I’m like the proverbial farmer who comes to the big city.  I’m looking for stuff… lots of stuff.

At the top of my to-buy list this trip was “Stillman & Birn sketchbooks.”  Anyone who has followed my blog knows that I use them almost exclusively as I appreciate their quality.  In short, they make me look better than I am and I need all the help I can get.  One of my first stops in Ottawa was a big disappointment as the stored looked like they were going out of business.  If empty shelves can make a retail store money, they are doing great.

But Toronto is a different place.  It’s the location of two of the largest online art stores in Canada.  Both stock S&B sketchbooks and both have physical stores in Toronto.  I had a plan.  Curry Art Supplies is located only a 15 minute walk from our hotel so that was my first stop.  While they did have some S&B, they didn’t have the sizes and paper types I wanted.  Very disappointing.

Above Ground Art Supplies

But after a romp through the Silver Snail, a comic book store just down the street, we headed for Above Ground Art Supplies, another 15 minutes of walking.  Above Ground has got to be one of the coolest art stores on the planet.  It’s a large, beautiful, three-story house and each room of the first two floors is filled, floor to ceiling, with stuff. Cool stuff.  Great stuff.

S&B_BetaI was so excited that I nearly ran up the stairs to the second floor where the sketchbooks were located.  You have to see the sketchbook room to believe it.  They’ve got hundreds of sketchbooks.  They’ve got so many that their inventory spills out into a hallway and dribbles into a room containing modeling materials.  I’m sure I spent half an hour just looking at all the sketchbooks.  Most important, though was that they had the Stillman & Birn Beta series books that I was looking for.  I needed some to get me through the summer.   I wanted to buy them all but in a rare fit of rational thought, I limited myself to buying three of them.  I added some incidentals to my pile and checked out.  The credit card was only mildly warm as I left this great art store.

Making Room For Carriage Wheels

Our weather is marginal for sketching outdoors but the long winter has me pressing the limits of my cold tolerance.  I’m also motivated by the knowledge that at this time of year, there are areas in the old city that are more conducive to sketching (ie – you can see what you want to sketch) than they are later in the year when the tourists are here.

So, I put on a couple layers and headed downtown, to an area near the port area called Place Royale.  The most important feature there is a gorgeous church but I was after smaller game.

I was going to draw the corner of a wall – a special corner of a wall.  Streets in Quebec City during the 18th Century were narrow.  Carriage wheels, on the other hand, were very large and protruded out from the carriage, making it difficult to negotiate a carriage around the corners.

The solution was to inset the corners of the buildings for the first eight feet of so, creating an odd-shaped corner with no explanation if you wander the streets in the 21st Century.  But now, when you come to Quebec, you’ll know why some of the corners look like this:


Stillman & BIrn Beta (6×8), Sailor Profit calligraphy pen, DeAtramentis Document Black, Daniel Smith watercolors


A Caffeine Dose At Dose

I’ve started going to a tiny coffee shop that’s in the high-rise district of Quebec City.  The shop is called Dose, for reasons known only to them. The view is horrible for sketching but they have the best Café americano in the city.

Being an opportunistic sketcher, I thought I’d pull a Liz Steel and draw my cup.  “Spring is slowly coming to Quebec City and I hope to be on the streets sketching in a week or so, ” he said optimistically.

Stillman & Birn Beta (6x8), Pilot Falcon SEF, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8), Pilot Falcon SEF, De Atramentis Document Black

Sitting Tall While Drawing Baby Buddah

I love my Walking Stool.  I’ve been using it for two years and it still looks like new, in spite of use nearly every day.  They’re more expensive than most tripod stools but so much more comfortable and I need my butt to be comfortable when I draw.  Mine is the 18″ tall seat and I had the opportunity to try out the 22″ seat and wanted to see if I preferred it.

The first problem I had to over come was what to sketch and where.  It’s still too cold to sketch outside so I set up a statue on my kitchen table and, sitting in the middle of the room, started sketching.  The first thing I noticed was that my drawing support was gone.  The taller stool unbent my legs to a point where I no longer had a lap upon which to rest my sketchbook.  Bummer…I like my lap.  I need that support.  Or do I?

A problem I have as a sketcher is bending over too much to sketch.  This causes two problems.  The first is that it hurts my back to be bent over for extended period.  I’m old and back pain makes me grumpy.  The other thing is that I have to move my head a lot more from a bent over drawing position to an upright viewing position, in an extreme form of the typical bobbing-head sketcher behavior.

The taller stool forced me to figure out how to hold my sketchbook against my body.  Lots of people do it.  I struggle with this but I really should learn how.  I’ve been drawing for three years and should have figured it out by now.

In the end, this taller stool weighs a bit more than my shorter one, is a bit harder to carry, and the only thing I “gain” is being forced to learn to sketch like a big person.  I guess I’ll stick with my 18″ version (I’m 6-feet tall by the way).

Here’s the sketch I did during this experiment.  I used my Pilot Falcon and De Atramentis Document Black ink.  Watercolors are Daniel Smith.  Sketchbook is a Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8).  Hope you like it.