A Trip To The Hunting & Fishing Museum

Quebec’s hunting and fishing organization does a lot of wonderful work.  In addition to maintaining a large nature reserve and conducting several conservation programs, they maintain a fabulous museum filled with spectacular taxidermy specimens, all waiting for sketchers to put them to paper.

Several of us went there last week and spent several hours enjoying the place.  I started with this coyote.  He had a somewhat sleepy left eye that could have been real or the result of the taxidermy.  In any case, I think he has a beautiful face.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10 softcover), DeAtramentis Document Black, Platinum Prefounte pen

We stopped for lunch, taking advantage of their well-equipped eating area. It looks out on the surrounding forest, which is now deep in snow.  I confess that with coffee in hand and good company it was a bit hard to head back to sketching.

When we did I decided that I’d draw one of the many deer heads on display.  I chose this one and did a very relaxed drawing of him and his wonderful antlers.  I love drawing antlers, though visually I find them hard.  When I finished everyone was packing up to head back to town.  I’m sure, though, as the winter bears down on us, that we’ll be back.

Sketching From The Car

Winter has grabbed hold of us in Quebec and right now I’m looking out the window at a foot of new snow, but the snow is going sideways due to 60-70km/h winds.  I can’t see across the street.  I’m praying for the winds to die down this afternoon so I can run my snowblower.  Something to look forward to I suppose.

So I’m writing to you about a short trip I took a few days ago with Yvan out to Miriam’s cottage on Ile d’Orleans.  It was a bright sunny day but also, how do you say it… nippy.  We picked up Miriam and headed to a town called St. Laurent on the island.  We arrived at the boulangerie which is one of my favorite places to visit during summer, because they sell the best pesto pizza and it’s great to sit on the balcony of this huge house, overlooking the St. Lawrence, and sketch.  I’ve drawn the church it faces a number of times.

Today, though, our target was a cute little building from which they sell crafty things to the tourists.  It’s snuggled into the forest edge behind the main building and looks to me like a ginger-bread house.  We parked at the end of the driveway (the place is closed during winter) and sketched the building from the car.  It was a bit cramped with three of us in the car, with our sketching bags close at hand.  We had to start the car several times to defrost the windows but we were out of the wind and plenty warm.

I tried to depict the ‘tucked away’ look of the place by including a bunch of the foreground but I struggled a bit with the snow since I was working on tan paper.  I was happy with my “cute” approach on this sketch, though I’ve got to get better creating snow with gouache.  It was either too white or not white enough 🙂

From there we ended up across the street in the parking lot behind the church.  Miriam and Yvan wanted to draw the big ice blocks that had started to accumulate along the bank of the St. Lawrence.  That didn’t really turn my crank and so I just started sketching random things I could see.  I enjoy doing this because I can just concentrate on the object, foresaking any semblance of scene-building.  Pickings were a bit slim in the parking lot but it was fun nevertheless.

Sketching from a car isn’t ideal, but there’s something cozy about doing it with a couple friends.  Sort of like drive-in movies for sketchers.

Quick-sketching At The Grande Marche

Finally, maybe, kinda-sorta, the holiday season is behind us.  Every year it’s the same.  There’s the build-up to Christmas, with Christmas bringing the thought that the holidays are finally over.

But at our house it starts all over again because my daughter, my wife, and my wife’s mother all have birthdays during January.  This year was extra-busy because it was my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday so Chantal’s been running around, buying out the stores in preparation for the party.  That party was supposed to be going on RIGHT NOW, but lo and behold, the hospice facility where my mother-in-law is living right now just quarantined itself due to an outbreak of flu. The 100th anniversary party cancelled.

Otherwise things are returning to normal and I’m starting to do some sketching outside the house.  I spent a couple sessions at the Grande Marche, quick-sketching people and its kiosks.  Boy, do I need practice with quick-sketching.  I’ve lost my knack for it almost completely.  One has to do it regularly to be successful and my health problems got me out of sync with street sketching.

This scene was created by drawing people as they arrived at this kiosk, followed by drawing some of the kiosk clutter for background.

For this one the approach was a bit different because my goal was to draw the end of a long coffee shop so I started with the big shapes of the counters.  A guy came along and stood while he poured milk and sugar into his coffee (from counter on the left) so I drew him and then went back to drawing all the “stuff” that was coffee shop.

I moved to a different location and found a condiment cart sitting next to a wall and decided to draw it.  I always find it hard to “draw” all the little bits, trying to generate instead a series of textures to represent them.  In the end I think the sketch was too small to worry about it.  It was fun to get out with pen in hand.  Did I mention that I need practice…lots of practice.

Drawing From Photos And Proud Of It

I just read a great post by Tina Koyama titled Practicing People of the 21st Century.  She presents some great drawing exercises to improve the ability to capture people in motion.  She also begins her discussion with the notion that “it wouldn’t be so bad…” if she drew from photos.

In my mind, this is THE biggest problem with the urban sketching movement.  While we’re ready and willing to tell everyone that drawing from life, on location, is very valuable as a learning tool, we’ve nearly turned our backs completely on all the OTHER ways we can benefit our personal learning curves or are at least apologetic if we do anything that’s not on location.  Copying master drawings, doing drawing skill exercises, visual memory exercises, AND DRAWING FROM TV, MOVIES, AND PHOTOS are all important to the development of an artist.

Truth is, you don’t learn much by going out and using your existing skills to draw something for the group throw down at the end of the day for the simple reason that you’re “using your existing skills to draw something.”  Just as a baseball player doesn’t learn to hit home runs by playing baseball games, sketchers need activities separate from “creating art to show others” if they are to improve.

I happen to know that Tina, who draws all the time on location, also attends classes at places like the Gage Institute, Daniel Smith store, etc.  She need not (should not) excuse herself for drawing from photos, regardless of her goal.  I’m sure that she, like everyone else who wants to improve their art, could benefit from trying to make a hyper-realistic drawing from a photo, and there’s no need to be apologetic about it at all.

Just to put a bit of drawing where my mouth is, here is a page from my own practice book.  That book holds pages of nothing more than me trying to draw straight lines in parallel or between two dots.  There are pages of ellipses, all poorly drawn in evidence of my need for such practice.  But since the topic here is drawing from photos, here’s a page of four 10-12 minute (sometimes I cheated on my 10-min limitation) faces.  The source for them was Mr. Google.  Are they perfect?  No, but I’m practicing stuff I’m not good at – if they were perfect there would be no point.

This stuff is practice and neither Tina or I would post any of it except  to talk about practicing, and maybe that’s the problem.  People wanting to be urban sketchers only see the stuff we’ve done on the streets, sitting on our tripod stools.  But, to improve, you need to be doing a lot of this other stuff and to feel proud, not guilty for doing it.

Sketching A Porcupine Fish In The Dark

For sketchers in Quebec City, the beginning of winter is marked with our migration from outdoors to the museums.  We’re now at the museum, a place that doesn’t seem able to pay its electric bill.  At least it seems that way as they decided a year or so ago to start “lighting” their exhibits with lots of dark.

Currently there are two exhibits in our Museum of Civilisation that are dark, one being a really nice exhibit on poisonous animals and plants, at least the parts of it you can actually see are nice.  There are some things where even putting your nose to the case glass isn’t sufficient to see the details of the object on display.  It’s said that museum clients spend mere seconds looking at any object.  Maybe this is how the museum is trying to slow them down.  I don’t think it’s working.

I decided to draw this porcupine fish.  I took the photo from a position that provided some backlighting of the fish so you could actually see it…almost.  While drawing it I had to make several forays up close to find out where the fins were.  Unlike many porcupine fish, this one didn’t have a lot of spines.  There were some short ones on his belly but otherwise his skin was smooth.  One thing was certain, however, I had to draw this sketch in a somewhat comical fashion.  This guy just deserved that treatment.

Stillman & Birn Beta (8×10), Wing Sung 3009, DeAtramentis Document Black

Quick biological fact of the day:  Porcupine fish (aka blowfish) are popular with suishi eaters with a death wish because blowfish contain a very toxic compound called tetrodotoxin.  This stuff is 1000 times more toxic than cyanide.  I’ve seen references to how poisonous the spines of a blowfish are but that’s not true.  The toxin is in the internal organs, specifically the liver and gut.  I think I’ll stick with salads myself.