The Struggling Artist

Hi everyone.  Seems like forever since I’ve done a blog post.  Maybe I should start writing about doctor visits.  That would give me more than enough to talk about (grin).

In the movies, a struggling artist is one who is destitute, often a drunk, or worse.  In the fine arts world the poverty remains but these struggling artists all remain pure to their art, not compromising anything for commercial success.  In the sketching world, more often than not a struggling artist is one who has a hard time remaining motivated.  I’ve never understood why that is.  Anyways, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not a struggling artist of a different sort, one beaten down by health issues.

I was supposed to go sketching on Tuesday morning.  I was excited because we were going to sketch in the Christmas store in old Quebec City.  This building used to be a multi-floor bookstore in the 40s and 50s, a gathering place for those who cherished the written word.  Sometime along the way, however, it became a year-round Christmas store that is filled to the brim with decorations.  With Christmas behind us, or well ahead of us depending upon your view, we were granted access to sketch within its walls on Tuesday.

On Sunday I decided to do a quick sketch of its exterior from a photo I had of the place.  I didn’t spend a lot of time on it and kept the sketch both simple and without a lot of contrast because I envisioned it receding into the background of a two-page spread of brightly colored ornament sketches.  Unfortunately, when Tuesday rolled around I was having what is now referred to at our house as a “bad” day and my knee limited my mobility and my left hand and wrist were nearly locked up and quite painful.  I couldn’t go.  I was a struggling artist.  I share with you the sad result.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5)

On the upside, I’m enjoying Liz Steel’s Watercolour Course which has just started.  Thus far I’m covering paper with blotches of color, spending time trying to create more texture in my washes, and even doing some small, horrible sketches using paint only.  I really do love Liz’s courses.  Her Foundations course is the course I wish existed when I started trying to sketch and this new watercolor course is causing me to investigate watercolors in a new light, and I definitely need some new light when it comes to watercolors.

Sketching Ain’t Easy These Days

It’s now 2018 and I’m hoping there will be fewer doctor and physio appointments this year.  I’ve tried to doodle my way through the last few months of 2017, working on using my elbow and shoulder more and my wrists less.  I draw small, though and find that transition to be tough sledding, particularly for drawing small-size curves that my wrist just won’t do.

Nevertheless, if I made any resolution for 2018 it was to get back to drawing.  This morning I decided to draw a scene from a photo.  My wrist was feeling “pretty good” which is my shorthand term for “it’s not locked up and doesn’t hurt constantly” and so I grabbed a Platinum Carbon pen and a 5×7 piece of Fabriano Artistico CP and tried to capture a photo I had of Quebec’s Finance Building.  The pen isn’t flowing like it once did, probably because I’m being too careful about how I’m moving my hand, but I did produce a sketch and I share it with you here.

Hopefully things will improve as I get back into it.  I sure hope so because Liz Steel’s new watercolour course starts January 10th and I hope to do a lot of fuzzy stick practice ‘real soon.’

Sketchy Reflections Of 2017

When I thought about writing about my 2017 as a sketcher, all I could think of was how bad the last four months have been as health problems have kept me from doing much sketching at all.  This resulted in me filling only a paltry seven sketchbooks this year, though I did do more sketching on single sheets than every before.

But then I thought about the rest of the year and not only was it eventful, it was pretty darn special.  I got to meet a LOT of people and this is something I don’t normally have in my sketching world.

I have my ‘best buddy’ and mentor, Yvan Breton, who keeps me on track and patiently tries to teach me how to draw, and I am fortunate enough to have a small group of people that I get to sketch with regularly, but I’m not a traveler, so I don’t attend the growing number of sketcher events around the world.

But this year some of that world came to me and serendipity allowed me to become more involved with the Montreal sketchers.  In February I spent the day at the Red Path Museum in Montreal with Marc Taro Holmes.  I love sketching with Marc because not only is he one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet, you always learn stuff when you hang out with Marc.  I got to spend the day with him later in the year where he talked me into trying to paint statues directly rather than drawing them first.  If I can get my failing hands to cooperate, this is going to open a lot of possibilities for me.

Koosje Koene, of Sketchbook Skool fame, came to Montreal for a visit and couldn’t miss the opportunity to meet her as I love her “Draw Tip Tuesday” series.  I confess that I rarely do the things she shows but she has a way of making me smile with her imagination and presentation of these short videos.  Sadly the day she was in Montreal, it was raining so sketching was limited.  Instead, we went to a restaurant and spent the time talking about art, sketching, and I got to know her a bit better as well as some of the Montreal sketchers.  It was a good day in spite of the rain, maybe because of it.

It’s been hard for me to participate in Montreal urban sketchers events because it’s a long five hour round trip between Quebec City and there.  It’s possible to get up really early, drive to Montreal, sketch for a few hours, and then drive back but it doesn’t make for a comfortable day.  So, I was thrilled when my daughter finished up her degree at the University of Ottawa and decided that she was going to go to law school at McGill University, in Montreal.  I would have a floor to sleep on when I decided to attend Montreal sketching events.  She moved there in August, the same weekend that Liz Steel and Anne-Laure Jacquart came to visit so I got to spend several days sketching in Montreal that weekend.

I spent the first day with Marc, the highlight being the statue drawing I mentioned above.  The next day I spent the day with Marc, Liz, and Anne-Laure in a whirlwind sketchcrawl through the city.  It was the best sketching day of my life in spite of the fact that I was always woefully out-classed, frantic to keep up, and my results less than stellar.  What an experience.  I’m a slow sketcher by nature so juxtaposed next to these three, I was really slow.  Their ability to sketch complex street scenes in almost no time has to be seen to be believed.  I was in awe.  Lucky for me, they are also very nice people, who didn’t laugh at me.

The next day a bunch of the urban sketchers came out to sketch with Liz and Anne-Laure.  The day started with rain but eventually we got some sketching time.  To be honest, I was pretty worn out by then as the moving of my daughter and previous day’s sketching had taken a lot out of me.  It was also the first day that my leg started limiting my movements.  Definitely a day to remember.  2017 was a good year for me because of the people.

I also got to attend a couple USK Montreal events in 2017.  I was hoping for more but by September I was having a hard enough time getting around my house so going out sketching was out of the question.  I’m hopeful that too many doctors and I are getting some of this under control, at least enough that I’ll be able to hobble my way to a sketching location and, on good days, my hand will cooperate enough to let me draw.  Getting old is awful, but it still beats the alternative.  Onward to 2018.

 

 

Weathervane Sketching Is Fun

I should be writing blog posts about how life would be for a snail trying to do location sketching.  Movement from point A to point B is so slow and energy-draining for me these days that I have to make decisions based on how long it will take me to get there.  I suppose that’s true for everyone but I’m talking about how far I have to walk in a museum.  Distances measured in feet have become important (grin).  Weird that.

But I am starting to get out and about and it feels really good.  I went to the museum on Tuesday.  I used to walk there (about 45min).  Now I take two buses and when I get there I’m exhausted.  Once I’ve hobbled up a couple flights of stairs I have to sit down and rest before I try to sketch.

The significant thing about all this is that the majority of my sketching time isn’t spent sketching so I have to keep the subjects simple and just try to get as much enjoyment from the short sketching fix as possible.  There’s a row of weathervanes on display right now and they fit a snail-sketcher’s approach really well.  Hope you like this one.  The original is made of sheet metal.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot/Namiki Falcon

Forgotten But Not Lost

It’s been several weeks since I walked out of my house wearing my larger art bag.  That was the day I met Brigitte, the new sketcher I mentioned in my last post.  We met in the small park along St. Denis street within the walls of the old city of Quebec.

We were to meet at 10AM but Claudette and I arrived earlier, I think it was around 9:30.  We both started sketching and I was well into a drawing when Brigitte arrived.  When she did, we started talking about everything and anything and had a delightful conversation about her, about the sketching world in Quebec City, her house renovations and a bunch of other stuff.  She’s really a delightful person but eventually we decided that maybe we should draw and so got back to it.  By then, though, it was nearing lunch time, or at least coffee break time so we didn’t get much more sketching done.

I was starting to have my leg problems and when I got home my bag went on the shelf and the only thing I’ve done with it since was to remove my pen case, because all other materials are replicated on my desk and/or in my smaller bag.  Yesterday, however, I decided to organize for what I optimistically view as my imminent return to street sketching.

And guess what I found?  That partially complete sketch from weeks ago.  It seems very unlikely that I’ll ever complete it so I thought I’d show you an ‘in progress” photo of it.  Hope you like it.

Trying To Get Out With My Friends

Several weeks ago I got to meet a new sketcher.  She and her husband had moved to Quebec City and she wanted to hook up with local sketchers.  We met for a sketching session and had a great time.

Then I started having mobility problems and time after time, we couldn’t manage to get together for another session.  I was both frustrated and embarrassed by this and so when she asked if we could go sketching last week I said yes and we agreed to meet near the large fountain in front of the Quebec Parliament.  Yvan came along as well.

I limped my way to the site and sat on a bench.  It was really great to be out in the fresh air and to get to talk with friends but I was hurting so much that sketching didn’t seem important.  Still, there I was and so I started by drawing three young children who are part of the fountain.

I spent more time just sitting than I did drawing but I just kept adding small sketches of things I could see from my position.  No rhyme or reason to it; I was just sketching, or trying.  It wasn’t urban sketching at its best but it was urban sketching I suppose (grin).  For what it’s worth, the guy in front of the lamp post wasn’t actually leaning against it; he was part of the fountain too.  The lamp post was actually across the street from the fountain.  While he is shirtless, we were wearing jackets.

Temporary Loss Of An Urban Sketching Tool

Have you ever lost pens, paints, brushes, etc. while out urban sketching.  I have.  Several years ago I lost my entire paint kit somewhere between sketching site and home and that loss was traumatic.  The palette was inexpensive, the case was a favorite, and that kit contained several Escoda sable travel brushes.  I nearly cried.  But all of it was replaceable and my sketching regime hardly skipped a beat.

I’m dealing with another loss, however, and I while I hope it’s temporary, it’s much harder to overcome.  I’ve lost my ability to walk more than across the room.  It started with my ankle and then my knee.  Right now the leg between the two is the size of a telephone pole and I’m spending a lot of time with doctors.

If I were a “true” urban sketcher I suppose I’d be sharing lots of sketches of medical machinery but I’m not that kind of urban sketcher, I suppose.  Besides, the pain and stress have been distracting.  I won’t bore you with details but I’ve been diagnosed and I’ve just started some physiotherapy yesterday that sounds encouraging.  The ramifications for this blog is that because I can’t wander the streets of Quebec City, I can’t draw the streets of Quebec City so the nature of my sketches will probably change, at least in the short term.  Irony of ironies, I’ve waited all summer for decent weather and we’re finally getting a string of beautiful days.  Such is my luck sometimes.

The upside is that this is a good opportunity to do some experimentation and maybe I can even convince myself that I can draw from a photograph and enjoy it.  For now, I leave you with a sketch I did after hobbling along a beach on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River last week.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

St. Charles River Sketching Exposition

I’ve mentioned La Collectif before.  They are a great group of folks who mostly draw portraits and life drawing.  But in recent years they’ve also started holding outdoor sketching events.  These events have gained momentum since Daniel Chagnon took on the job of planning these events.

This year, he scheduled a series of events along the St. Charles River with the goal of having an exposition of those works later in the year.  Sadly, several of them got rained out but persistence paid off and a bunch of sketches were done.  That exposition happened last week at the Maison Dorion-Coulomb, the headquarters for the Parc linéaire de la Rivière-Saint-Charles, the group that promotes activities in the 32km long park through which the river flows.

The exhibition runs from Sep 5th through the 17th but the vernissage, where the artists were present, was held last Saturday.  We were all supposed to come and sketch and generally enjoy the day.

I confess that I’ve been a bit antisocial lately because my knee is providing me with a steady dose of pain that puts me in a bad mood generally.  I even thought about not going, but I did and I’m glad I did.

I don’t have much in the way of sketches to show you.  I sat on the porch and drew the sign in front of the house.  By then, most of the group were circled around a willing model and they were drawing his portrait.

The closest I got to that exercise (my least favorite subject) was to draw one of the sketchers, who was slumped down in her chair, perfectly relaxed and doing her thing.

As always, when I’m around sketchers, I spent more time talking than I should have if sketching was the goal, but sometimes it isn’t.

 

Fresh Air On Ile d’Orleans

This time of year the temperatures cool (most of our days don’t get above 20C) and day length is shorter.  We become aware that soon we’ll be cooped up in our houses except for when we have to go out to shovel snow.

And so we take advantage of any good weather day and play outdoors.  For Chantal and I that generally means a couple trips to Ile d’Orleans, a large island near Quebec City which is largely inhabited by farmers and cows.  Specifically, head to a cafe on the south side of the island where we can eat brioche, drink good coffee, and breath clean air as we look out over the St. Lawrence River.

And that’s what we did last weekend.  Coffee and brioche were fantastic as always and, just as ‘as always’, after we’d sat for a while we decided to drive around the island.  We headed east and ended up in St. Francois, one of six small towns on the island.  The highlight there is a little candy store, though on this trip we avoided it.  Instead we parked in a parking lot next to the church, sat on a bench, and drew what was in front of us.  This is what it looked like.

We drove on, stopped at a park on the east end of the island.  There’s a very tall tower here that, if you climb to the top, provides a fantastic view eastward along the St. Lawrence.  We didn’t climb it because, right now, my right knee and ankle aren’t being very cooperative.  Instead, we got back in the car and headed for a place with the name Maison des nos Aieux.  There is a large cathedral in front of this place but the “maison” refers to a large house that sits on a bunch of land that’s been turned into a park and flower garden.  The “aieux” refers to the fact that the place is to honor the original inhabitants of the island and there’s a large monument with their names on it.  We like to stop there because it’s so peaceful to just sit on one of the many benches and breathe some more clean air.  I’ve sketches several things here but today I got fascinated by a simple water spigot, which suited the short time frame we were there.  Sometimes simple is just right and this was one of those cases.  A fitting end to a great day.

Sketching With A Brush

A few weeks ago I spent some time with Marc Taro Holmes and we talked a lot about sketching directly with brush, skipping pointy devices completely and jumping directly to a fuzzy stick.  I even tried it that day and only moderately failed at it (grin).

Those small experiments told me several things.  The first was that I had little control over a paint brush.  After some analysis I think the problem is that I’m trying to draw with it like a pen, at too low an angle, and I lose control over line width.  I also learned that I had no feel for paint thickness and when drawing you can’t rely upon thin washes to get the job done.

So I went away intrigued but also a little frustrated.  I also felt challenged to gain better control over my watercolors, something I’ve been wanting to do anyway.  I’ve spent some time mixing, drawing lines, experimenting with brush angles, etc. and it’s been a fun adventure.  That’s a good thing because I’ve got to do a lot more of it before I’ll be able to draw directly with paint.

I was out for a walk, though, and decided to give the method a try with one of my favorite steeples in downtown Quebec City.  Accomplished artists won’t think much of this as it lacks crispness and precision.  But I was pleased with this simple sketch as it suggests I’m making progress.  I have to confess, however, that I doubt this will become my way of working for the simple reason that I love drawing with my pens and don’t want to give it up.  It is a wonderful way of getting me closer to watercolors and forcing me to stop viewing them like crayons.