A Few Of My Favorite Things

I love trains and I was lucky to be a kid when trains were a very important part of our landscape.  I’m also lucky enough to have lived long enough that we’re now wishing we had those trains we discarded because our ‘modern’ mechanisms for moving people and goods are becoming economically and environmentally untenable.

I also love my daughter, but she rudely grew taller and taller until, one day, she ran away to college.  But it’s the holidays and she was coming home – on a train.  Trains, daughter and me, all in the same place.  What more could an old man want?

Palaisdugares

I arrived at the train station about 15 minutes before the train was to arrive and found that her train was going to be about 10 minutes late.  Figuring I’d have about 20 minutes before I had to move to the arrival gate, I sat down in the main hall to draw.

I love our train station.  It’s something of a shell of its original footprint, with only a few trains and far fewer passengers moving through it’s cavernous insides.  Fewer passengers means more room available and in recent years they’ve built a couple smallish restaurants along one wall of the main hall.

I drew one of them (resto can be seen in the interior photo above) in a Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8) with De Atramentis Docu Black.   Not having a lot of time, the sketch is a bit on the wonky side but it was fun and I finished up in time to watch the train arrive.  Did I mention that I like trains?  Oh…and my daughter too.

Happy holidays everyone! — Larry

Stillman & Birn Beta (6x8), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×8), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Docu Black

Sketching The Past

This is the time of year that a street sketcher, living in a part of the world that turns dark and cold for five months, starts thinking about what he’s going to draw for the next few months.  One thing that’s occurred to me is that there are many things I simply can’t draw ‘on location’ because they simply don’t exist any longer.  Why not draw those things, from photos or museum examples?

So, when I was sketching at a small display in the Laval University library, I decided to draw the passenger pigeon that was on display.  It’s 100 years ago, this year, that we finally ‘got the last one’ of some five BILLION of these birds that once inhabited North America.  Enterprising European immigrants, showing their mettle, blew every last one of them from the sky.  What a proud accomplishment.  It might be ok if we would have said “oops…we shouldn’t do that again” but we continue to do it, over and over and over.  I heard on the news the other day that there are currently 50% fewer animals on our planet than there were just 30 years ago.  How much longer can we continue to be so stupid?  Not much longer unless we wake up and stop our denial about what’s going on.

But enough of an old biologist grousing about what unbridled disregard for everything but money is doing to our world.  Back to sketching.  I had never seen a passenger pigeon before.  It looks very much like a very large, somewhat elongated mourning dove and certainly more lean than it’s domestic pigeon cousin.  I drew this one in a Stillman & Birn Delta sketchbook with a Pilot/Namiki Falcon pen.  The color comes from Faber-Castell Albrecht-Durer watercolor pencils.  I love these pencils and every time I get them out I wonder why I don’t use them more.  The wing primaries should be darker.

passenger pigeon

Stillman & Birn Zeta: A Pen Sketcher’s Dream

S&B_ZetaBack in November of 2011 I bought my first Stillman & Birn sketchbook.  It was a 5×8, hardcover Alpha-series book.  I wrote about the Alpha Series here.   In that blog post I said that I liked it very much and I gave several reasons why I felt it outperformed the other sketchbooks I’d tried. I also ran out and bought several more.  But as I’d only had it for a short time I added the caveat that “It’s probably premature to draw conclusions that will stick.”

Well, nearly two years and ten S&B sketchbooks in use or filled, I think I can be a bit more definitive…but with another caveat.  Stillman & Birn just keeps getting better and better so who knows what ‘best’ will look like in the future.

I find the colors are brighter on Zeta paper, probably because they aren't absorbed into the paper as much.  Makes lifting easier as well.

I find the colors are brighter on Zeta paper, probably because they aren’t absorbed into the paper as much. Makes lifting easier as well.

As I filled sketchbooks, I tried the other Stillman & Birn papers.  For the pen & ink work I do, the Epsilon sketchbooks are wonderful to draw on.  It took me a while to get used to how the smoother paper accepts watercolor as they stay wet longer and sit on the surface more, which is neither good or bad but different from the more absorbent Alpha.  The best equivalency I know is to the differences between cold-press and hot-press watercolor papers. Both of these papers are 100lb papers that, while they outperform any papers of this weight I’ve ever used, they still have a tendency to curl somewhat when lots of water are applied.  You can see a bit of shadowing if you use both sides of the paper.

And then I tried Beta, S&B’s 180lb paper.  This is surfaced very much like a cold-press paper and provides a fantastic surface for watercolors but not as nice as Epsilon for pen use.   By the end of the summer of 2012 I wrote a summary post on these different sketchbooks.  I was completely hooked on Stillman & Birn papers and their amazing double-stitched bindings which are second to none.  But at the time I thought “They need thick “Epsilon” paper.

Notice how flat S&B sketchbooks lay once they've been broken in.

Notice how flat S&B Zeta sketchbooks lay once they’ve been broken in.

And this is the thing about Stillman & Birn.  If you dream it, they magically know you were dreaming and they make it.  The Zeta sketchbooks were release a few months ago in response to my dream.  I’m betting others were dreaming the same thing.

I use several S&B sketchbooks (different sizes and papers) simultaneously and when the Zeta series was released, I immediately started using one.  It quickly became a favorite for my kind of sketching (pen/ink and wash).  It’s a merging of best of Beta and Epsilon into one paper as it’s 180lb Epsilon paper.  I’m working in my second Zeta sketchbook and it’s hard for me to see any reason to use any other, if the size I want is available with this paper.

There lies the rub as I still use Alpha in 4×6 and 10×7 formats.  I will likely buy a 7×10 spiral bound Zeta as a substitute for my 10×7 Alphas but, so far, S&B haven’t produced a truly small sketchbook (thin, 3×5) – my current dream.  I hope that when they do it will contain Zeta paper (grin).

Indoor Sketching At Its Best

Today was a new sketching experience for me.  Most of my sketching has been directed at buildings; mostly on the streets of Quebec City.  But as I’ve reported, winter has driven me into museums and so I’ve been boring you with sketches of Samurai helmets and Nigerian masks.

My sketching buddies, who are all better sketchers than I am, are similarly afflicted with the ‘It’s Too Cold To Be Outdoors Sketching Blues’ and Celine decided to do something about it.  She invited Pierre, Yvan, and myself to her house for a sketching session in her studio.

Her studio is a wonderful place, with lots of spot lights, tables and shelves full of “stuff” to sketch.  It was hard for me to turn my back on her great art library, but we were there to sketch so we did.

Pierre pointed at a bowl of artificial fruit and said, “I want to sketch that” and just as though following orders from Capt. Picard on Star Trek, we followed his orders and ‘made it so.’

Celine set up a spot light over the fruit and we sat in a circle around the fruit bowl, and sketched…and sketched.  It took me forever as I’d never done a still life of any kind.  Does a building count as a still life?

I’m still getting used to using watercolor pencils and this sketch taught me a few things, including some “gonna have to figure out how to…” sorts of things.  One thing I found interesting is that they didn’t seem to work as well in my S&B Beta sketchbook as they do in my S&B Epsilon sketchbook.  I guess the smoother paper of the Epsilon keeps the pigment higher on the paper, making it easier to wash them out evenly.  With regular watercolors I really prefer the Beta paper as it’s so much thicker.

2012_12-BowlOfFruit700

Here’s my completed sketch, done in a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook (6×8), using a Pilot Prera and Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.  Don’t tell the urban sketchers I did this one.  They might drum me out of the corps, though it was done ‘on location’ so I guess it qualifies.  I’m still reading the fine print on such things.

Sketching fruit works up an appetite and Celine and Pierre had prepared a feast for us.  My usual sketching lunch is a granola bar and an apple so I was completely unprepared for a heavenly soup, fine cheeses, crackers, and fruit.  This was followed by dessert and a yummy oolong tea.  Let it be written that Larry ate too much.

2012_12-BlueJayStatue700And then it was back to sketching.  Well, I indicated some reluctance as I was once again buried up to my nose in Celine’s art library.  So many books…so little time.  Eventually I found myself sketching a small ceramic statue of a blue jay.  It’s the first bird I’ve ever sketched.  It’s also the first bird that’s ever stood still long enough for my slow sketching pace to capture it.  Thanks, bird.  Here it is, done in the same sketchbook, same pen, same ink, same limited abilities.

We finished up with discussions of sketching and Yvan, as usual, provided some great insights.  His skill is enormous, and exceeded only by his patience for my silly questions.  I write this as the end to a perfect day.  Thanks again, Celine.

 

 

 

Halloween – Urban Sketching Style

This is the time of year that sketchers post beautiful sketches of pumpkins.  I love them all.  I figure this to be my first Halloween as a sketcher.  Last October I’d just started try to move pointy objects across paper and I wasn’t up to the task of sketching pumpkins.  So, a year later, here’s my first set, done with a black ballpoint pen that blobbed on me more than a few times, adding “character” to my sketch.

Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook (6×8), Pentel RSVP ballpoint, W&N watercolors

But I’m an urban sketcher.  I sketch buildings, lamposts and fire hydrants.  I guess a group of pumpkins sitting on my kitchen table is ‘urban’ but you have to mentally squint to see it.  So I thought I should do something else and I found the ideal subject as I walked the main street that runs through our port area.   What could be better than an orange building with some black Halloween decorations on it.

Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (10×7), Pilot Prera w/Noodler’s Lexington Gray, W&N watercolors

When I sat across the street to sketch it, though, I had an immediate problem.  There is considerable vehicle traffic on this street and when sitting low on my tripod stool, it was hard to see the lower front of the building.  I’m not good enough to sketch moving vehicles so I sat, looked and pondered.  Then I sat, looked and pondered some more.  What to do.

I got out a 3H pencil and started laying out where the building and stairwell would sit on the paper and marked out the door location.  Then I picked up my stool and walked down the street and found a place where I could sit the ‘right’ distance from a car.  I sketched it as though it was moving in front of my, as yet to be drawn, building.  Then I moved back to the building and sketched it.  I’m not sure I got car and building sized properly relative to one another but it’s close enough for me.  Hope you like it.  Happy Halloween.

Cheers — Larry