Drawing Leaves In The Park

I had fun at the park this week.  I sat down to enjoy the fresh air and all the greenery and noted that in spite of the end of September date, our leaves have ignored the day length changes and had not started to change colors yet.  It has, indeed, been an odd weather year.  It was 25C as I sat in the sunshine.

But I noticed a couple red leaves on the ground.  There must have been blown there because I couldn’t see where it came from.  It gave me a leaf to draw so I put it on the bench next to me and quickly sketched and painted it.  This motivated me to look for more and while I did find a couple more red leaves on the ground, what caught my eye was a tiny little maple tree, sticking out of a garden area.  I decided to sketch a few of its leaves and add a splash of red to them as well.  If I were a real nature journalist I’d write stuff on this spread.  I guess I am not a nature journalist (grin).

I’m becoming quite fond of the Hahnemuhle Cappuccino sketchbook.  It’s definitely not a watercolor sketchbook but it’s a dream to draw on with pen and as long as I don’t get carried away with the water, adding watercolor works pretty well.  I suspect I’ll buy another when this one is full.

lHahnemuehle Cappuccino sketchbook, Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

A Visit To Baie St. Paul

Shari Blaukopf recently spent several days in the Baie St. Paul area painting up a storm.  As I read her blog posts I thought of times when Chantal and I had visited the area and how much fun it was.  While we couldn’t go for several days, we decided to do a day trip there and back.  That meant a two hour drive in each direction so we wouldn’t have much time there but heck, it would satisfy our wanderlust.

The drive was enjoyable.  Just getting out and driving through forest and field was a treat.  When we got there we hunted down the place Shari mentioned that made 100% cotton paper.  It was nice, but I found the papers too thin (seemed mostly for writing) and too expensive.  So, we walked across the street to the Maritime Museum of Charlevoix, another of Shari’s stops.  It’s an interesting place, a place where cargo ships were stored during winters.  Since the display ships are all out of the water and sitting at an odd angle, I didn’t draw any of them (excepting a small, quick sketch of the tugboat that showed up in a previous blog post).

Instead I was thrilled to find tractors and stationary steam engines on display.  These provided power to move the ships around.  And so I drew one of the steam engines.  The sketch isn’t my best.  I found the subject more complex than I thought it would be and didn’t devote enough time to blocking in its proportions and relationships.  Oh well.  We had a great time anyway.

I’m both fascinated and frustrated by the effects the COVID scourge has had on my feelings and decision-making.  One of the really fun things to do in Baie St. Paul is walk down Main St. (don’t think it’s called that), visiting the high-end boutiques and art galleries.  Of course we had to do that – or did we really.  As we were wandering I felt that I shouldn’t be there.  The very notion of being in a store “just to look” has left me and all I wanted to do was get out of there.  Chantal felt the same way.

Ultimately we had our first meal in a restaurant since February and I had to chuckle over the fact that our choice of restaurant had little or nothing to do with what they were serving and everything to do with how few people were in the restaurant.  Such is life these days.  Hope COVID is treating you well.

Walking On New Ground

COVID isolation has resulted in my covering new artistic ground as a substitute for daily urban sketching jaunts in old Quebec and elsewhere.  But here in Quebec City things have relaxed a bit as Canada has gotten things under better control.  We’re all shopping in our masks but we can move almost freely outdoors.

A couple weeks ago the Artistes dans les parcs group was supposed to have an event at a small park not too far from where I live.  The plan was to paint the old alley ways in that neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the event was rained out.

The next week I decided to walk there just to see the area as I’d never sketched there before.  As I walked the street I looked down one of the alleys and saw a scene that grabbed me.  It wasn’t the subject (an old garage structure surrounded by trees, but light/shadow situation.   The trees on the left side of the alley were nearly black from being in shadow while the garage and the trees on the right of it were brightly lit.

I decided to try to paint it in gouache, a medium I’m trying to figure out. Frankly, I was in a bit over my head.  I’m still working on Shari Blaukopf’s light and shadow course and trying to get my head around painting light rather than stuff.  To do it with gouache was, well, intimidating.  But in the end the exercise was extremely informative and fun.

In hindsight the sketch would have benefited from my “moving in”, making the garage a larger piece of the puzzle.  I started with a minimal pencil sketch and then tried to do washes to mark out the various values.  I think this was a mistake, but only because I was in watercolor mode, which to me means I was working light to dark.  I’m sure that an experienced painter wouldn’t have a problem but quickly I realized that I would have been better off laying in the darks first.  I had a hard time adjusting lights and darks to fit the scene.  I found myself longing for some Alizarin because my Pyrrol Red just couldn’t take my cobalt/yellow green dark enough to match the light grays I’d used to represent the whites of the scene.  Looking back, I realize that my REAL problem was that I was ignoring my tube of ivory black gouache, which would have solved the problem quickly.  I just don’t think about black as being part of the arsenal.  Pretty dumb when using an opaque medium.

As I said, I had a lot of fun.  One little epiphany I had during this effort was about my artist brain.  When I’m working with ink and wash, I think about proportions and relative locations of things, but most of the rest (perspective, edges, etc) is handled automagically by my subconscious.  It’s that ‘in the zone’ thing we talk about.  I realized that while doing this painting, I was getting no help from my lizard brain.  I was having to think about everything and it was HARD!

I remember that feeling from years ago when I was faced with trying to learn to draw.  How could I think about all that stuff at once?  Truth is, you can’t.  It’s impossible.  You simply have to do it enough that some of it becomes automated to the point where all you have to do is think about how big to make stuff and where to put it.

What’s A Pencil?

When I came to sketching I’d been using fountain pens for all of my writing for decades.  It never occurred to me to use anything different to draw stuff.  So I’ve spent years using fountain pens for sketching and rarely have I tried anything else, though I’ve spent a bunch of time with watercolor pencils in museums when watercolors weren’t allowed.  But with the COVID scurge going on I’m doing more experiments.  I’m not sure why, but I think it has to do with me doing more art in isolation rather than going out with friends to sketch some location.

I was at an Artistes dans les parcs event last week.  Even here I’m mostly by myself because the language barrier prevents a lot of interaction between myself and the rest of the participants.  Anyways, I was out on the shore of the St. Lawrence River sizing up some rocks to draw.  For whatever reason I got the idea to draw them with a pencil.  I dug around in my bag and came up with a short hunk of Blackwing 602.  Here’s the result.  Another result of this experiment is the realization that I’ve never learned how to draw with a simple, graphite pencil.

Strathmore 184lb Toned Tan paper, pencil

Sitting In The Morning Sun… I’ll Be Cooked Before The Sketch Is Done

Apologies to Otis Redding for the title of this post.  But it describes pretty well a morning I had at the latest Artistes dans les parcs event.  It was all my fault.  Sometimes I forsake rational thinking while choosing a sketching subject.

This event took place at a spiritual retreat site that looks like it has its roots as a home for the upper crust.  The grounds are huge and high on a hill that overlooks the St. Lawrence River.  Almost all of the participants set up easels in a shady area so they could paint the coastline.  Those were the smart ones because we were in the middle of a heat wave with pressing heat and humidity.

Me, I took a different approach.  I decided to sketch a bunch of stairs.  My thinking was simply that I needed practice sketching stairs.  I didn’t think about the fact that to do so required that I sit out in the open, in bright sun, and that I would sweat myself to become ill from the process.  I cooked, and cooked, and cooked, more concerned about lilies and concrete than how I was feeling.

When I came out of my sketching fog I realized I wasn’t feeling that great.  Only then did I realize that I was light-headed and dripping with sweat.  I headed for some shade.  Then I realized that I had forgotten to bring a waterbottle.  All I had to drink was my back up water for painting, all 30ml of the stuff.  I drank that and then waited for the little bit of breeze to cool me down.  In the end I was fine, with only a hint of stupid to chew on.  I did go home early, however.  It was just too hot to be out without water.