Practice Makes Perfect… and Fun

I’m not a sports guy.  I don’t watch football, basketball or hockey.  Heck, I don’t even know the rules of hockey.  But baseball…ah…baseball.  I’m a sucker for baseball.  I do limit my watching to one team – the Toronto Blue Jays, but that’s 162 x 3 hours of TV watching from April thru September.  Lots of potential sketching practice time.

While I watch these games I use my laptop to keep up with email, write blog posts, and read other people’s blogs.  I also sketch, and sketch, and sketch.  Often I’ll just practice cross-hatching, drawing long, straight parallel lines, or testing pens.  I draw countless ellipses, draw odd shapes, shading them into 3-dimensional existence, and anything else I can think of.  Not only is it fun, it’s how I’m learning to draw.  I don’t think one can learn to draw by drawing final, formal sketches any more than a person learns to play piano by playing piano concertos.  You’ve got to practice the various parts of art, the movements of the hand, the proportions of things.

I’ve always done this sort of practice on photocopy paper, ultimately throwing the results away.  But I’ve bought a cheap Strathmore, 400 series “Drawing” book for this practice.  The other night I put my laptop next to me on the sofa, did an image Google search on “people” and started quick-sketching people from the images.  I thought I’d share the results.  Certainly nothing special and evidence that I need the practice, but it might be something you want to try as it’s lots of fun and certainly good practice.

Done with a Tombow 2558  HB pencil

Done with a Tombow 2558 HB pencil

Quebec City’s Harbor Is Busy Again

For the last couple weeks, all the pleasure boats that have spent the winter in their cocoons have been carried, one-by-one, down a ramp and plunked into Bassin Louise, the protected harbor for pleasure boats in Quebec City.  There is a lock that allows boats to come and go in spite of the significant tides of the St. Lawrence River and just outside those locks is where all the tugboats are, that serve the larger ship traffic along the St. Lawrence and/or are loaded/unloaded in Quebec City.

I walked down to this area today and there was a spring (pun intended) in my step.  I have to say it…I just have to.  No way I can avoid it.  It’s just got to come out.  IT WAS WARM, WARM, WARM today.  I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt as I skipped along the St. Charles River.  I was a happy sketcher.  Did I mention that it’s finally WARM in Quebec City?

There was only one glitch in the day.  I sat down to draw a small tugboat that I hadn’t seen before.  Most of our tugs are what one might call ‘ocean tugs’  – really big, really powerful tugboats.  This one was much smaller.  It was cute.  When I was a kid I had a book whose main character was L’il Toot.  He was a brightly colored tugboat with big eyes on the front of his cabin. This tugboat reminded me of him.  But when I opened my sketching bag I found that I’d forgotten to stuff my sketchbook into it.  I did have a small Strathmore “Drawing” book, however, so I did this quick sketch of my tugboat as it poked its head above the harbor wall.  Did I mention that it was WARM today?  In spite of the lack of a real sketchbook, this was a great day.

Strathmore 4x6 "Drawing" book, Uniball Signo UM-151 pen

Strathmore 4×6 “Drawing” book, Uniball Signo UM-151 pen

Biding My Time Til Spring

Tomorrow is April Fool’s Day but Quebec City is still waiting for spring.  It is the case that Mother Nature gave us clear skies today but, like my attitude toward politicians, I’ve taken a ‘fool me once…’ point of view of Ma-dam Nature.

And so as I wait for her to stop playing with my sensibilities, I’ve look for places and things to draw.  I’m not much of a people sketcher as they just don’t interest me very much but what’cha gonna do when the snow is falling and the temps are below freezing.  I quick-sketch people.  It’s fun but the results somewhat embarrassing (grin).

2014-03-27PianistHere’s a couple sketches from a recital I attended recently.  They were done in a Strathmore ‘toned gray’ sketchbook with a Pilot Prera.  If there’s shading it was done with waterbrushes with a few drops of ink added to them.

The larger one was an attempt to capture audience and musician but time ran out and the cellist walked away before I was done so he and the cello remain unfinished.  Such is life of a real-time sketcher.

2014-03-27Cellist

2014-03-27Trombonist's legsI include this tiny sketch because I thought it funny.  Not sure what I was thinking.  Well, actually I do.  These legs were attached to a trombone player and between her being short, the woman sitting in front of me being tall and her music stand, these legs were my only connection to the “action”, seen between two member of the audience.

A couple days later we were invited to a read-thru rehearsal for a play by the Quebec Art Company.  Yvan does the marketing posters for them.  I found this a near-impossible challenge as the actors were moving around on stage almost constantly and my people art ‘vocabulary’ is insufficient to draw people who are changing their positions every few seconds.  I took advantage of one guy who was supposed to be dead (spoiler alert – he wasn’t) and drew him but, as you can see, I resorted to drawing some of the props.  I did a fantastic chair but I won’t bore you with chair and sofa drawings (grin).   These were done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) using Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray.

2014-03-30LendMeATenorAll in all, it’s all good.  The more I move pointy devices across paper, the better I get at it.  Working at different speeds is like cross-training and all speeds seem to benefit.  Still, I’m hoping spring comes “real soon.”

Mastering Brush Pens: Not Yet!

My typical sketching tool is a fine nib fountain pen filled with waterproof ink.  I like it because I’m not an artist, I just draw stuff and I like the detail a fine nib permits.  I often add color to my sketches by using them like a kid uses crayons, keeping the color inside the lines.  In the two years I’ve been trying to learn to draw, I’ve ignored all of the nuance of ‘art’ and concentrated solely on line and contour.

But winter is encroaching on Quebec and that means I’ve got to give up my daily wandering and location sketching.  It’s just too darn cold.  So I’ve decided to spend the winter sketching in museums AND trying to learn more about alternative approaches to sketching.

To that end I bought a Pilot cartridge brush pen.  These come with soft and hard tips and I bought the soft one.  I also have a Pentel brush pen and I love doodling with it but it’s so soft that I find it impossible for my shaky old hand to control.  The Pilot soft tip is a bit stiffer than the Pentel but I still have a hard time controlling it.  I’m interested, though, in producing sketches with varied line width and in using washable inks to provide shading and texture.

2013-11-03PilotBrushPen_72When I received the brush pen, and using the Pilot cartridge that came with it, I drew this little sketch from my imagination and while sitting at my desk.  I was pleased with the result and I could control the pen adequately, though my penchant for thin lines raised its ugly head and gave me some frustration.  I used a waterbrush to pull pigment from the lines, some drawn specifically for that purpose.

2013-11-04PilotBrushPen_72Then it got ‘warm’ here.  I think we got up to 5C one day so I went out sketching.  I found it much harder to control the brush pen while balancing the sketchbook on my knee, mostly because in addition to directing line creation, the pen is very sensitive to pressure and maintaining that to achieve thin lines was hard for me.  Again, I used the waterbrush and things went ‘ok’ – good enough to suggest that with practice I might be able to master the tool.

Then I decided to add some blue to the building and the ink further exploded in some areas.  Some might see this as ‘artistic.’  My response was “eeeek!”

2013-11-04Kaweco_BernBlack_72I had to feed my penchant for a bit more detail so while I was out I swapped tools.  I have a Kaweco Al-Sport filled with Noodler’s Bernanke Black, a washable ink that dries quickly.  I use it regularly as a writing ink so I thought I’d try it as a sketching tool.  I did this sketch of a downtown building.  Lines are thicker than my norm and they responded well to waterbrush.  I liked the results of this approach – something of a compromise to my typical approach and a more loose sketch.  Lots of potential here, but not a brush pen sketch.

2013-11-07GeraniumPilotBrushPen_72That night I was watching TV and decided to work on control of the brush pen.  I started drawing geranium leaves and, fairly quickly I had a geranium plant.  I felt I was gaining some control over line width, though I had to think about this a lot, which interfered with my ‘seeing’ process.  I guess I’m not good at multi-tasking (grin).  When I added a bit of color I got what I felt was a pleasant bit of washing of the lines by being careful with the brush.

All of these sketches were done in a small (4×6) Strathmore Series 400 drawing pad.  I have not yet used any of these approaches on better quality papers.  I suspect the results will differ but mostly I need to do a couple dozen sketches with the brush pen to see if I can gain better control over it.  What are your experiences with true brush pens (not pointy felt markers like Tombows)?

 

Sketching at Chute Montmorency

CMontmorencyChute Montmorency is a large waterfall just east of Quebec City.  It’s a major tourist attraction, a mini-Niagara Falls I suppose.  It has all the tourist amenities.  Large facility at the base of the falls greets tourists and there’s a large parking lot to accommodate a constant parade of vehicles.

There’s also a tram and a smiling attendant with their hand out.  You can pay the price or you can climb a veritable labyrinth of stairs up to the top of the falls.  We did neither.

Locals, wanting to get to the top take a metro bus that drops them near the top and next to a hotel that sits at the tram terminus.  There’s a wonderful boardwalk that tourists walk along to the falls and it provides spectacular views of the falls as well as the St. Lawrence River.  We took the bus.

I met my sketching buddy, Claudette, on the bus and we walked the short trail down to the west end of a large pedestrian bridge that runs right across the top of the falls.  The views are pretty spectacular from there.  So, what do a couple of urban sketchers do?  We set up at the end of the bridge and drew the bridge.  We’ll draw the trees, beautiful canyon, and the falls themselves some other day.  I guess it truly is a mindset as both of us did this without much thought.

I decided to work in a small format as I’ve been doing a series of smaller sketches.  I got out my little Moleskine watercolor sketchbook and started drawing.  Claudette did likewise with her 5×8 Strathmore 467-series sketchbook.  These are beautiful, brown-covered watercolor sketchbooks, though they are in landscape mode which is not idea in my view.

2013-08-24ClaudetteSketchingCIt seemed that we both finished our linework about the same time as I noticed that she was getting out her watercolors as I reached for mine.  She had hers. I did not.  I’d left my watercolor kit sitting on my desk.

While disappointing, it allowed me to stand up and move around, giving my old knees a stretch.  Then I sat down and did a quick, small sketch of Claudette working on her sketch.  Obviously, I added color to my sketches when I got home.

2013-08-24ChuteMontmorencyBridgeCClaudette composed an interesting view of the bridge, sort of zooming in on just the entrance area.  I decided to capture more of the entirety of the scene.  I like hers better.  I always do.

ClaudetteBridge

We wandered up Avenue Royale which is a very old street lined with older, though often completely renovated houses.  These are majestic houses with lots of what my dad used to call ‘gingerbread’ trim, large front doors and porch areas.

We only found a few dozen things we wanted to sketch but it was time for lunch.  Feeling recharged by good food and conversation, we returned to the falls area and I sketched this little snack kiosk, again in my 3×5 watercolor book.  Then, we hopped on the bus and came home.  Paraphrasing the Terminator…”we’ll be back.”

2013-08-24ChuteMontmorencyKioskC

Uniball Signo UM-151 For Sketching

I’m a fountain pen guy but I’m a sucker for a new pointy device regardless of type.  Pete Scully, a well-known urban sketcher swears by Uniball Signo UM-151 pens and uses them regularly.  I’ve never found any of the fine tip versions in the stores around here but I finally decided to order a couple from Jet Pens.

And I’m glad I did!!  I’m a fan of Pilot’s Hitec-C3 and C4 pens as they’ve got very fine points, don’t wear down like the nylon-tip pens, and they have replacable cartridges.  Unfortunately, they’re not waterproof so I can’t use them when I want to use watercolors with my pen/ink sketches.

SignoUM151

The Uniball Signo UM-151 pens, in .28 and .38 mm sizes solve that problem as their inks are pigment-based and thus are waterproof.  I bought mine in ‘brown-black’ as I wanted a dark brown pen and haven’t been able to find a brown/waterproof fountain pen ink that makes me happy.  I should say, up front, that I don’t understand Uniball’s tip dimensions except to say that the line width is less than the size of the tip, which is fine but it’s hard for me to report the actual line width for comparison to other pens.

Mitsubishi, manufacturers of Uniball pens says that their .7mm pens produce a .4mm line.  I couldn’t find a similar description of the .28 and .38mm pens.  What I can say is that the .28mm line is significantly finer than that from a Micron 005, which is claimed to be .20mm.  In any case, it’s fine…and when hatching a small sketch, it’s just dandy…or ‘peachy’ as my dad used to say.

I’ve only had the pens a couple days so I can’t say much about long-term performance except to say that the rollerball should hold up better than the fine nylon tip pens, which I find wear down annoying fast.  As replacement cartridges cost only $1.65 from Jet Pens, ink capacity isn’t much of a problem either.

2013-07-05SignoTestHere’s my first test drive of the pen.  I used the .28mm on this tiny Rhodia pad (3×4).  The pen doesn’t skip a beat.  Stippling works better than I expected from a ball-tip pen, though if you stipple a lot, you need to roll it occasionally on a piece of scrap if the ball goes dry.  Otherwise it’s a point-and-shoot device.

I was sitting on my porch, waiting to head out for a day of sketching in the country, and I used the Pilot Signo to draw this Impatiens flower in a Strathmore Series 400 “Drawing” sketchbook.  Notice that even with the pink, there’s not bleed from the brown-black ink.  Makes me very happy.

2013-07-06Flower

These pens come in a bunch of colors and after seeing a couple sketched by Pete where he used the dark green, I can’t wait to get my hands on one of those.  For myself, the .38mm is a better pen for sketching 5×8 or larger but the .28mm is a treat for details, hatching, and when you’re working small (eg – 3×5).

The best part of these pens is that they’re CHEAP!!!  From Jet Pens they’re only $2.50 and replacement cartridges only $1.65.  The bad news is that individual cartridges are only available in blue, black, red and, blue-black.  I’m hoping they make brown-black available ‘real soon.’

2013-07-07Apartment

Today I went out for an early morning walk along the river.  I sat down on a bench to watch a family of ducks and before you could say ‘fanatical sketcher’ I had my little Strathmore doodle book in hand and I was scribbling out this sketch with the Uniball UM-151-28 pen.  It’s about 3×5 in size and all I had was a small waterbrush to add color.  Given the small amount of time consumed on this quick sketch, I like the result and my new UM-151 pen.

When A Sketcher Sees Red

2013-06-23J.Herbin1670I have a bottle f J. Herbin 1670, a dark red that’s not waterproof.  I’m not exactly sure what to do with it but I decided that I should experiment with using it for sketching.  I loaded up my Wahl-Eversharp Symphony with the ink and while watching baseball I doodled a bit, creating this page in a Strathmore ‘toned gray’ sketchbook.  Wish the paper was better but for pen-only work it’s not bad.

2013-06-23WindowI’ve been playing around with this color as a street sketching color and I’m not sure how well that will work out but I sketched this window and lamp as sort of a test.  Same Strathmore gray paper.

While riding the ferry to another event I did this small sketch of one of those tie-off thingies (sorry for my use of technical terms).  For some things I can see this color being fun to play with but I won’t be giving up my bottle of Lexington Gray anytime soon.

2013-06-24ferry

The Hidden Fun Of Urban Sketching

2013-02-23Hockey1We’re lucky in Quebec City.  Every year we host the International PeeWee Hockey Tournament.  Kids come from around the world to spend 10 days playing hockey and walking around saying “Bonjour” to everyone because it’s the only French word they know.  I know the feeling.

2013-02-23Hockey2We live down the street from one of the two venues where the tournament takes place and I was shoveling snow when one such group walked by my house.  Several of them used their one French word but one kid said, “We really like your snow.”  They were from Maryland.  When I said, in English, “You can have all and I’ll help you load it,” I swear a couple of them jumped off the ground.    2013-02-23Hockey3

2013-02-23Hockey6But this post isn’t about hockey, Pee Wee or otherwise.  It’s about sketching.  But it’s not about the sketches I’m presenting either.  Rather, it’s a post about the evening I spent with my family and thousands of hockey fans.

My habit of sketching every time I stop moving found me sitting among cheering fans, watching hockey and sketching, trying to create quick hockey player sketches by jumping from one player to another to grab a complete outline.  I’d never done that before and the results show my lack of experience with the technique.  But it was a LOT of fun and when the dust settled, I’d done eleven pages (5.5×8.5) of the darn things.2013-02-23Hockey7

Ok…so if the post isn’t about hockey, and it isn’t about sketches, why are you reading this, you ask.  I want to tell you a couple short stories about my interactions with some of the spectators.  Too often I hear people say they are too shy or not good enough to sketch in public.  These two stories, I hope, will convince you that none of that matters and that people LOVE sketchers.

2013-02-23Hockey8The first story begins between periods during the second game.  The players has just returned to the ice and I was sketching, as I had been for the past couple hours.  There was a very gentle tap on my left shoulder.  I turned to find it had come from the finger of a young girl, probably no more than 12-13 years old.  She very shyly said, “Do you speak French?”  I guess she’d heard me speaking English.  I told her yes and she immediately looked up a couple rows and waved. Another young girl jumped up and ran down to us.  “Hic c’est beau!  J’aime beaucoup vos esquisses,” (I think) immediately came from her and she asked if she could see all of my sketches.  Of course I complied, sheepishly showing her these crude sketches as she went on and on about how great they were.  I showed her my pens, my waterbrush, and how I used the waterbrush to shade the sketches.  They were thrilled; I was chuffed.  Nothing like an appreciative audience (grin).

At the end of the second game I got a cup of tea.  The food vendor lady ‘made’ me a tea, stuffing a tea bag in a styrofoam cup full of hot water.  I guess she was more used to people ordering coffee as she said, “I don’t know how to make tea.  If it’s no good I’ll give you your money back.”  I just smiled.  Quebecers are so nice.

2013-02-23Hockey9As there were no skaters on the ice I did a quick sketch of the Zamboni (ice cleaning machine) and then decided to sketch a guy who was sitting a couple rows below me.  Again, it was just a quick sketch, but at least he wasn’t in constant motion.  I was nearly finished when I got a tap on my shoulder.  This time it was a great big guy who was sitting behind me.  He asked “Are you drawing that guy down there?” and he pointed at the guy I was sketching.  My immediate thought was “Oh crap, I’m in trouble now”, but I admitted that I was.   I didn’t dare let on that I didn’t think it was even close to a likeness as he obviously saw something I didn’t.  He said, “That’s what I thought.  He’s my friend,” and he stood up and yelled, “Marcel, viens ici”  Marcel turned around, got up and came up to where we were sitting.  I showed him the sketch, he told me it was nice, the two friends kibbitzed a bit and he returned to his seat, and I did a quick shading of the sketch.

Sketching on location is special, even if nobody talks to you.  But when they do, it’s really special.  I’m convinced that there are people in the world who think my sketches are horrible and a waste of time…but they never talk to me.

 

Urban Sketchers Always Have Things To Draw

If your interests lie in drawing naked people, you need a model.  If you paint landscapes, you need to go to pretty places.  If you’re into aviation art, you need to hang out at airports or aviation museums.  But if you’re an urban sketcher, all you have to do is live your life with a sketchbook in your hand.  There’s always something to sketch.   I’m an urban sketcher.

2013-02-20BloodTests1I went for some blood tests yesterday and, of course, I had my sketching stuff with me.  From past experience I knew I’d have 10-15 minutes to wait before Dracula called me to be poked and so I checked in, sat down, and got out my sketchbook.  I thought about sketching a wheelchair that was sitting in the corner, or the receptionist’s area.  But I noticed a steady flow of people walking up to the receptionist, where you have to shove our paperwork through a slot; they confirm who you are, and then the receptionist provides instructions which mostly amount to ‘go sit down and we’ll call you.’

2013-02-20BloodTests3So I started quick-sketching these people.  It was a study in quickly grabbing the outlines of coats, purses and legs because you couldn’t see their heads, which were behind partitions that divided the 3 reception windows.  And it was fun.  My waiting time went by too quickly.

2013-02-20BloodTests2Here are three examples of those sketches.  Simple, good practice, and fun.  Done in a Strathmore ‘toned’ paper sketchbook with a Pilot Metropolitan and Waterman Absolute Brown ink.  A bit of it was quickly washed into a form of shading using a waterbrush.

Sketching At The Library

One of my many struggles as a sketcher is that I am slow, very slow.  I love to get into a subject and spent an hour or two sketching something.  But many times, I just don’t have that much time, or the scene I want to sketch is just too transient, or I’m with other people who don’t want to wait around for me to spend an hour sketching.

So, one of the things I vowed to do this winter was to work on my quick sketching abilities.  Quick sketching people is a good way to improve (develop?) those skills, of course, and it fits well with our harsh winters because I can be do it inside.  I went with Yvan, an amazing quick-sketcher, to our main library and we sat for a couple hours doing quick sketches, or in my case attempting to quick sketch people who were sitting/standing in the library.

2013-02-15QS1

Here is one of two spreads of these sketches that I did.  You can see some abject failures.  You can see evidence of where I started to sketch someone just as they got up and walked away.  You may also see a sketch or two that actually looks, kinda-sorta like a person.  At least I hope you do (grin).

Of course, being the building guy that I am, I couldn’t resist doing a quick sketch of a piece of the building across the street too.  Very quick and about as loose as I’ve ever tried to sketch a building.

2013-02-15QS2_1

All of the sketches were done in a Strathmore Series 400 ‘gray’ sketchbook using a Pilot Metropolitan (M) with Waterman Absolute Brown or a Lamy Safari (XF) with Private Reserve Velvet Black.  Both of these are washable inks and I used a waterbrush to create a bit of shading here and there.

It’s interesting to compare the Pilot Metropolitan, with its “medium” nib to my Lamy Safari “extra fine” nib.  The Metropolitan is finer, illustrating clearly the differences between Asian and European sizing nomenclature.  Between the museums and the library I continue to be a busy location sketcher in spite of the wind and cold outside.