Montreal Day 3: Meet Liz and Anne-Laure Day

Sunday was meet and greet day, where people could come, meet and sketch with Liz Steel and Anne-Laure Jacquart.  Marc was, once again, the organizer of said event and I really don’t know where he gets his stamina.  All three of these folks had just returned from several days in Chicago for the USK Symposium and so they’d been doing sketching events non-stop for more than a week.

I figured that since I’d gotten to spend an entire day with them, today would be a day where I’d just hang back and get some sketching done.  As I’m an early riser, by 7:30 I was walking towards the City Hall meeting place (at 10AM).  I figured I’d play tourist and get some early sketching done before other people showed up.  This was a simple enough plan but one that went horribly wrong.

The problem came in the form of rain and by the time I arrived at City Hall it was pouring rain and I was soaked to the bone.  I had a raincoat but it didn’t seem to help much.  I ducked into a place called Eggspectation to get some breakfast but mostly to dry out.  I was successful with the first part but I was too wet to expect to leave dry.

That didn’t really matter because when I left it was still pouring rain and so, the idiot that I am, I walked around for nearly two hours looking at stuff I’d like to sketch if not for the rain falling from my hat. My hands permanently wrinkled from the water.  Oh, and did I mention that I’d approached this entire weekend with a sprained ankle.  My FitBit said that I’d walked over 50km on it this weekend.  You’ll see how that becomes important as this saga continues.  Let me just say here that the walking, combined with soaking wet feet, weighed heavy on this old man by the time things got rolling on this day.

But roll along it did and people started showing up between 10-10:30 and the rain started to give us a break as well.  We huddled on the patio of a restaurant that hadn’t opened yet while introductions were made.  Marc laid out the game plan for the day and we soldiered out in the hopes that the rain had finally abated.  For the two or three of you that don’t know these artists, I provide these snapshots.  If you look closely you might be able to see the aura that surrounds each of them wherever they go (grin).

Anne-Laure Jacquart (gray sweater)

Marc Taro Holmes

Liz Steel

Our hopes were not realized as shortly after we started sketching, it started drizzling.  I’m not one for sketching in the rain but we really had no choice, and so I learned something.  Raincoats aren’t useful for sketching in the rain.  While many of the women tucked themselves AND their sketchbooks under umbrellas, even my small sketchbook was a target for the raindrops.  Marc was worse off than I was.  We were both doing quick sketches in small 3×5 notebooks but he had neither umbrella or raincoat.  He was just tough.

Anyways, here are the few little sketches I did during this session.  You can see evidence of the rain hitting the paper, causing the ink to bloom.   I spent a lot of time sitting, while lamenting the growing pain in my ankle, the beginnings of a limp and my growing sense of oldness as my body was letting me down.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon (3×5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it was time for lunch and I was sure ready for it, or rather I was ready for a dry place to sit.  The normal sketcher talk took place over lunch and I learned something else.  I’d come to this sketchcrawl with the thought of traveling light so each day I had three pieces of Coroplast with watercolor paper taped to both sides of it.  For the drawing portion of the day this is wonderful, maybe even ideal.  For the “show me yours” part of the day… not so much.  I had none of the sheets I’d done the day before, nothing I’d done in the past, and so, I had nothing to pass around while others were doing that with their sketchbooks.  I felt bad about this; I were getting to see all their great sketches without me “paying back” the favor.

It’s something to think about for the future.  I love the set up Anne-Laure uses.  She explains it in this YouTube video.  I’m going to try it.  I’ve seen it done on a smaller scale but I like to work on a bigger sheet than A5 or A6 sizes so this might be what I need.

When we came out of the restaurant it had stopped raining and so we spread out around Place Jacques Cartier and started sketching.  By this point my ankle was barking loud enough that I’m sure others heard it too, but I sat down and tried to draw City Hall.  I made a lot of errors in this sketch but if you know nothing of what Montreal City Hall looks like, it might be ok (grin).

At this point I started evaluating my situation.  I was limping quite a bit  and I started thinking about the fact that I was supposed to help my daughter move from Ottawa to Montreal the next day.  My body had won over my desires and I made my apologies and left, limping my way back to the apartment.  I felt sad and somewhat guilty to bail out on such a wonderful adventure but, to quote my daughter, “It is what it is.”  Maybe that should be “It was what it was” to keep the verb tenses consistent (grin).

But wow…what I learned this weekend will require a lot of thought and even more action.  I’ve been doing dozens of quick gestures in a style as close to Marc’s as I can.  These are actually going well and lots of fun.  Lots of problems with proportions though, because I’m working too fast to carefully analyze what I’m drawing.

I’m also mixing lots of blotches of watercolor, trying to figure out how to get the proper thickness for drawing lines with watercolor, figuring out the effects of multiple layers of wash, etc.  And I’ve been reviewing sections of Liz’s courses and trying to achieve a better understanding of how to apply what she explains in them.  Oh…and I’ve been trying to emulate the amazing beautiful people that Anne-Laure does.  So much inspiration, so little time.

Emergency Road Trip

This summer has become one for the record books in terms of how little sketching I’ve been able to do.  The lousy weather was bad enough but being rushed to the hospital with heart problems really put a damper on my sketching just when we started getting some good sketching days.  Happy as a clam following recovery from that, though, I was starting to get out sketching until…

My daughter is still in Ottawa and she decided to fall down a bunch of stairs.  It could have been worse, but she badly sprained her ankle and was suddenly on crutches.  To put this in context, she’s in Ottawa alone and needs to walk 20-25 min each way to work every day.  To make matters worse, her timing was unfortunate because she had arranged to take the bus to Montreal to pick up the keys for her new apartment.  And so she called mom and dad.

The result was that we dropped everything and drove five hours to Ottawa and the next morning we drove to Montreal and back (another four hours).  Back in Ottawa, we spent the night and the next day we drove back to Quebec City (another five hours).  What a weekend.  I’m old; I was exhausted.

So…not much sketching time that weekend, but we did sit in a park or about an hour and once we got Jodie sitting and her leg propped up I did some quick sketching.

Certainly not the best scene ever but this is what I could see over the trees.  It was nice to scratch out this sketch in a Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10).

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Platinum 3776, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

I then go out a small Stillman & Birn Epsilon (3×5) book, looked around and quickly drew these two apartment buildings on the other side of the Rideau River from where I was sitting.

I took a short break and took a walk along the river.  The Rideau River has bike/pedestrian paths on both sides of the river and it was nice to get out and do some walking.  When I got back I drew this little scene, again, viewed across the Rideau River.

Sketching At Lysander Waterfalls

A river, northeast of Quebec City, creates a spectacular display as it tumbles through a small series of rapids and waterfalls near Inverness, Quebec.  At the lip of the river canyon, fellow sketcher and all-around great person, Claudette and her chum have a really nice place and we were invited to spend the day sketching.

It was a great day and I wish I’d been feeling better.  The drugs I was given for my heart, while fine now, weren’t doing me any favors that weekend.  Nevertheless, it was a great day in spite of this small problem.  There were nine of us and we headed into the canyon shortly after we arrived.

Everyone started to draw and, of course, it started raining.  Some had brought umbrellas but I was not so equipped and as the rain hit my ink, it blossomed across the page.  What a frustrating mess that was.  So, I grabbed my 3×5 Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook and drew Lisette in her “July in Quebec” sketching suit.

The rain was not long-lived, though, and the rest of the day was under a bright sun and warm temperatures.  Rain free, I made a second attempt at drawing the road bridge over the river and above the falls.

Fabriano Artistico (CP), Platinum 3776, diluted DeAtramentis Doument Black

Eventually hunger drove us from the canyon and we headed to Claudette’s place for lunch and conversation.  I confess that my limited language skills are not up to the task of keeping up with the rapid fire French that occurs when so many fluent speakers are together, but lunch was fun anyway.   At one point, though, I got up from the table and took a seat outside the fray. Again, in my small sketchbook I did this quick sketch of the party.

I wasn’t feeling that well and so didn’t get much accomplished the rest of the day but it was really nice to get out of the city.  Thanks Claudette, for a great day.

A Great Day At Miriam’s Cottage

What’s your ideal sketching day?  I think mine is spending the day at Miriam’s cottage.  Miriam’s cottage is an idyllic place on a large island in the St. Lawrence River, near Quebec City.  She’s got a wonderful artist’s cottage, a huge barn full of sketchable stuff, and a chunk of land you could get lost in as long as you didn’t run out of paper.  All of that would be great enough but there’s also Miriam, who is an inspiration.

She approaches art the way we all did as kids.  She’s very much a “let’s try this” and “just have fun” kind of gal.  Her house has one wall with animal heads looking down on the proceedings.  These are not just any old animals either.  There’s a unicorn among them and all are made from paper mache.  In her loft there’s an full size man done using similar materials.  She draws with abandon and with considerable skill, choosing her tools on a whim.  It’s hard not to be humbled and harder still not to be thrilled just to be there.  Her dog Nikki is a joy and he loves to sit at a sketcher’s feet, apparently enjoying our silence, or maybe the scratching of a pen on paper.

Yvan and I went out to visit her a few days ago.  It was a rainy day but we were able to find cover and did some drawing.  The first drawing I did was this one.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8.5×5.5), Pilot 78G, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

Yvan was drawing next to me and I grumbled about how hard it was to draw this simple scene because nothing on this old barn was in alignment as it should be.  He took that as an opportunity to give me an art lesson and we had a great conversation about lines, squinting, and my problems with both things.  It was perfect.

I got out my little S&B Epsilon (3.5×5.5) book and drew this small sketch of the pool shed, trying to keep what Yvan had talked about in mind.  Then it was time for lunch so we headed to the deck, put up an umbrella over a table and ourselves and then spent an hour or so eating and enjoying each other’s company.  Miriam’s sister, Sarah, joined us.

The rain stopped and we decided that we should walk a bit so we headed down the hill, down the road and ended up at low tide next to the St. Lawrence.  In this location, huge rocks are exposed at low tide and we got the bright idea to try to do a drawing, in spite of the fact that it was threatening more rain.

I only had my little sketchbook with me and a Pilot 78G but that was enough.  I sat down behind where Miriam was sketching and drew her and the surrounding rocks.  I had no color with me but it didn’t much matter because I had to rush the last few lines because the rain had started to fall again.  I added the color when I got home.

We climbed the hill back to Miriam’s place and all agreed that we were going to have to do this again…and maybe again.  It was, indeed, an ideal sketching day.

A Weekend In Ottawa

For the last few years I’ve gotten to draw in the museums of Ottawa because my daughter was going to school there.  This past weekend was the end point of that part of her life as she graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Ottawa.  We went there to spend some time with her and to attend her graduation.

I didn’t make it to any of the museums because we spent the weekend doing more exciting things, like laundry, shopping and grocery shopping (grin).

It was a hectic weekend, made a bit more unsettled by the fact that high humidity and high temps combined to provide a near constant threat of thunderstorms.  There was even a tornado warning at one point.

As it turned out, we didn’t see a lot of rain but there was a lot of wind.  We did sit in Andrew Haydon Park, though, and I did some quick sketches.  It’s hard for me to spend much time on sketches when I am with other people who are not sketching.

Stillman & Birn Epsilon (3×5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (8×5)

 

 

Sometimes Small Is Fun

With decent weather coming late this year, I’m in the mood to walk, and walk, and walk.  My pedometer has been smoking hot from all the activity.  At the same time, my arthritic hand has been giving me fits and so it’s been hard for me to be motivated to sketch.

But small formats fit into the walks and don’t pain the hand too much so I’ve used my trusty 3.5×5.5 Stillman & Birn Epsilon book to work some sketching into my walks.  Here’s a couple of those results.  I might have gotten carried away with the color but I’m trying to figure out the why and how other sketchers do this sort of thing.  I think I like the results.  Do you?

Sometimes Sketching Doesn’t Take Time

My daughter came home for Easter and she wanted to go to our downtown area and wander around, so that’s what we did.  We’d been walking for a while and decided to sit down and take a short break.  As we sat, taking in spring sunshine and watching tiny icebergs floating down the St. Lawrence River, I asked if it would be ok for me to do a quick sketch, no more than 10 minutes.

The only sketchbook I had with me was a 3×5 Stillman & Birn Epsilon book (love these).  My pointy device was a Platinum Plaisir.  I chose a scene and started quickly sketching a piece of the Chateau Frontenac.  It took me less than 10 minutes and I added some color when I got home.  No plans were interrupted and no need for “I’m too busy to sketch.”  If you carry a pen and a small notebook, you always have time to sketch.  Besides, now I get to say that I’ve gotten to do TWO outdoor sketches this spring (grin).

Extreme Sketching: The Final Chapter

I did a blog post a while ago about what I called “extreme sketching.”  It was an idea that originated from Marc Taro Holmes.  We were going out, in mid-winter Quebec temperatures and doing five minute sketches in a small format.  Marc is quite good at it.  Me, not so much.

But it was a great exercise.  I struggle to hold a small sketchbook in one hand, while drawing with the other.  For some reason I just can’t slow the sketchbook down and the results are impacted a lot by both the sketchbook and the pen moving at the same time.  I was hoping to practice that enough to eliminate the problem.  I did not.

I also wanted more time quick-sketching.  I do a lot of quick people sketches but I don’t quick-sketch buildings or street scenes.  To get a good drawing I have to look at my subject for the better part of five minutes, thinking only about the proportions and relative locations of things before I start drawing.  All of those processes must be abandoned if I’m going to do the entire sketch in five minutes.  I do think I improved upon this because of this exercise, but I’m not sure how much.   I also haven’t figured out how to draw snow with a pen and so I ended up with lots of cottonballs in front of my buildings.

The other thing I wanted to do was to just get outside sketching.  This I accomplished.  I ran this experiment down to -20C (-5F).  When it got colder than that, I gave up.  I’m a sissy when it comes to cold.  But I did manage to do fifty of these sketches, nearly filling a small Stillman & Birn Epsilon softcover book.  I’ll probably do some more this summer, when it’s not so cold.  Here are a few of the sketches I did beyond the ones I posted previously.

Do you do crazy things like this?  I hope so.  I don’t want to be the only one.

 

Extreme Urban Sketching

Once upon a time I realized that it was crazy to try to sketch outdoors during Quebec winters.  I wasn’t happy about it, but I accepted it.  Then, along came Marc Taro Holmes, talking about wanting to lose weight by walking and using sketching to motivate himself.  He spoke of wandering Montreal, doing 5-6 minute sketches.  He enticed us with some of the sketches he’d done and threw down a gauntlet, daring someone to join him in this endeavour.  I accepted the challenge.

I knew it was crazy.  I knew I didn’t have the skills that Marc has.  But I was also desperate to sketch outside.  I’ve dedicated a small Stillman & Birn Epsilon softcover to this project.  I was motivated by the realization that doing this could help me develop several skills, presuming I didn’t lose my fingers to frostbite. These skills were:

1) Learn how to hold a sketchbook while sketching

I know… after five years of sketching you’d think I could hold a sketchbook out in front of me and sketch, but I can’t.  I typically sit when I sketch, resting the sketchbook on my lap or, using a larger sketchbook stuffed into my gut, I can sketch while standing.  Holding a small sketchbook (3×5) in one hand while drawing with the other – not on your life.

2) Improve my ability to draw something with fewer lines

I draw in either a cartoon or illustrative style.  To do this quickly is nearly impossible, at least for me because there are just too many lines and too much detail.  To draw quickly one must learn to identify which lines are important and draw only those.  I’m really bad at this and want to get better.

3) Improve my ability to simplify a scene so as to capture it quickly

I still get overwhelmed by the world around me, lacking the skill to see a scene on paper that reflects what I see but without extraneous details.

 

So with this as my motivation, and having agreed to be part of Marc’s project, I went out sketching.  The first day it was -14C, but it wasn’t very windy.  I set a timer and started drawing.  I think my timer is broken because the time passes far too quickly and my results were horrible.  But I know that early results are always horrible so I wasn’t put off by the results.  Here’s a couple of them.

The next day I was greeted by -20C and a bit of a breeze.  It was really cold.  I reminded myself that if Marc could do it, so could I.  I sketched.  I walked.  I sketched some more.

Then it turned cold(er).  When the temps were -22C and below reason kicked in and I stayed indoors.   We entered a series of days with snow, rain, and more cold, which led to ice, making walking impossible.  So I stayed inside some more.

Eventually the weather improved and I was back at it again.  I’d resolved to do 100 of these sketches.  My sketchbook was still moving around almost as much as my pen so there was a randomness in the line work.  Here are a couple more examples.

More days passed; more walking and sketching took place.  It was still frustrating but I noticed that my sketchbook was slowing down; it was becoming easier to keep up with it.

So far I’ve done 20 of these little scribbles.  When it’s not too cold, it’s even starting to be fun.  I’m beginning to think that by the time I get the 100th sketch done I may have made progress on all three of my goals.  In any case I’m getting to do some outdoor sketching and that’s a good thing.  Here are the last couple drawings I’ve done.  I think I’ve moved from doing horrible sketches to doing bad sketches.  I consider that a win.  I’ve quickly added quick bits of color to these to see how they’d look with color.  Extreme urban sketching is challenging but fun.

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.