A Montreal Sketching Adventure

Spring has finally come to Quebec and the timing couldn’t have been better for a scheduled trip to Montreal to see my daughter and to attend the USk Montreal’s monthly sketchcrawl.  We’ve had a sudden shift from 0C (or worse) to 15C and when I arrived by bus in Montreal there was nothing but pleasantness in the air.

After morning coffee with my daughter, she headed off to study (exam week at McGill) and I headed to the Redpath Museum, the site of the sketchcrawl.

Oh, a few posts back (see here) I lamented about what a bad documentarian I was when it came to recording sketching events.  I’m afraid I haven’t improved much but I did take a couple photos this time.

I arrived quite early and was one of the first through the door.  That was a good thing because the museum is three stories tall and my bad leg mad for a very slow climb to the main floor, which is the second floor.

I love this museum. It’s structured like an old-time natural history museum and has all the mahogany it needs to pull it off.  I was standing here (photo above) when Marc called to tell me he’d arrived and very shortly, we were catching up, had arranged lunch, and then we decided to draw, which was the raison d’etre of the event after all.  Notice that Marc isn’t properly armed with watercolors, pencils and pen. He’s drawing on an iPad.

I don’t know how many sketchers were in attendance but the museum couldn’t have held many more; they were everywhere.  This museum is very sketcher-friendly, allowing watercolors and pens to be used and they provide a bunch of chairs that can be carried to where you want to sit.  It is true, however, that a lot of the exhibits are better viewed from a standing position.

Here’s a couple practitioners of the standing mode.  It’s the approach I took as well, though my leg didn’t appreciated that decision very much.  Sigh…what’s a guy to do.

Oops…almost forgot.  Here’s a Kingfisher I drew.

Marc and I had a great lunch and, as always, I went away with my head full of ideas to ponder and plans to make.  But by then I was scheduled to meet up with my daughter so I said goodbye and headed off to meet her.  We had a great dinner at Restaurant Manana, a place that’s become a regular stop when I come to Montreal.  I grew up in Arizona and miss Mexican food, something that’s not popular in Quebec City.

The next morning my daughter had an exam and I had time to kill before Notabene, my favorite store in Montreal opened.  I also needed breakfast and so I went to Cafe Noir, a little coffee place near one of the Metro stations.  Killing an hour, alone, in a coffee shop almost requires a pen be scraped across paper and so I started making some notes about my visit.  This led to drawing street lights and the top of the building across the street.  I didn’t make it to the bottom because with bagel and coffee consumed, it was time to head off to Notabene.

Notabene was busier than I’d ever seen it.  The reason was their 20% off everything sale.  I wanted to buy one of their old typewriters but I was being a good boy that morning.  Instead I picked up several notebooks but then put all but one back.  It was another Emilio Braga notebook, a book I talked about here the last time I went to Montreal.  I also bought one of the “new” (re-released) white Lamy Joy fountain pens and was quite proud of myself for not spending too much money.  Then I headed to the bus station and back to Quebec City.

First Outdoor Sketch Of 2018

While many are counting spring flowers, Quebec City lags behind planet Earth as we still have lots of snow.  I’m hopeful it will melt away ‘real soon’ and it was with that optimistic view that I decided to go outside and draw.

It was still too cold.  It was windy and  I had to stand up while drawing, something I’m not good at, but by standing against a wall, out of the wind, it wasn’t too bad.  Here’s my first outdoor sketch of 2018.

Recording What You See

As an urban sketcher, we’re told we should sketch the scenes around us, do reportage, record our life and those around us.  I’m horrible at all of that.  I draw for the pleasure of moving a pen across paper.  I don’t “draw verbs.”  I don’t even think it’s possible to do this popular plea from urban sketchers.  I draw things, stuff, objects, nouns.  My sketches do hold memories of the times and places where they were done but that is not my goal in creating them.

With all that said, there are times when a bit of reportage is, or should be important, even to me, and I have to confess that I fail at it.  I have a cell phone, like everyone else.  A simple click of a button and I could record these moments.  But I never think about it.  I see the results of other sketchers, who take photos of their fellow sketchers and sketching groups who regularly pose for group photos.  Our local sketchers just don’t think that way and a bit of reflection in the mirror suggests that I don’t either.

A case in point is when people come to Quebec City to sketch with me.  These times are among the highlights of my time as a sketcher and yet I don’t document them well.  Most recently Owen Swain came to visit.  He’s a really good illustrator/sketcher from Winsor, Ontario and he came to visit with his family.  As it turned out, it was just too darn cold for us to sketch the day we met, but our conversations over several cups of good coffee made for a memorable day.  And I don’t have a single photograph of Owen’s visit [sigh].

And it got me to thinking about other visitors I’ve been lucky to have visit.  Marc and Laurel Holmes came to spend a day sketching Quebec City.  I learned a lot from Marc and really enjoyed Laurel’s company.  Not a single photo of the event was taken by yours truly.  Fortunately, Laurel is an excellent photographer and came to the rescue with a single photo of Marc and I walking down Chemin St. Louis.

Karen Casper came to visit from the US.  She’s a first class watercolorist and a lot of fun to be around.  We had two great sketching days together.  Not a single photo was taken during her visit, though I did do this really quick sketch of her while we were sketching.

The one visitor I did take a photo of when she visited was Paula Raudenbush, back in 2015.  We had a ball the day she and her friend visited and for some reason I did take a photo of her as we sat in front of Trinity church and she sketched.  To commemorate my singular act of photo-taking, I made a sketch from that photo.

Clearly I’ve got to get better at this sort of thing.  I feel really bad about not having any physical evidence of Owen’s visit.  Maybe I can get him to come back for another visit.  If any of you would like to visit Quebec City this summer, I promise to take your picture.

Papelarias Emilio Braga Sketchbook

We made a weekend trip to Montreal to visit our daughter, which meant that within a couple hours of arriving we were standing in Notebene, my favorite pen/paper/pencil store.  I was there to talk to Carol about a pen and to pick up some Platinum Carbon Black cartridges.

It was to be a ‘no spend’ visit because I didn’t need much.  But, you know, a guy’s got to look around and, you know, it’s hard to resist, you know, finding stuff I “needed.”  Of course I “needed” a dozen Tombow Mono 2B pencils I found.  Not too bad, though.  We were twenty minutes into the visit and the pencils were all I “needed.”

Then it happened.  My daughter handed me a notebook and said, “This feels so good.”  It was an A6-size book that must have had a couple hundred pages in it, nice cream-colored blank, as in could be used as a sketchbook, pages.  And she was right, it felt right.  It was heavier than I like in a sketchbook but holding it made me feel like I had something important in my hands.  I could tell my daughter wanted it badly.  She did her best to argue that I shouldn’t buy it for her but her heart wasn’t really in it.  By then, my wife was there and she wanted one too.

I now had nearly $60 worth of books in my hands and I was sort of wishing they had a third one for me.  I say sort of because they also had a thinner version of the book that was just as elegant but much lighter and it suited my “needs” better than the thicker book.  One of those ($14 CDN) ended up on the pile.  And with smiles all around, my “no spend” day warmed up the credit card quite a bit.

So what is this sketchbook?  It’s a Paperlarias Emilio Braga notebook with blank, cream-colored  90gsm paper.  These notebooks are handmade and both sewn and glued together.  They lay flat.  The covers are cardboard covered with brown paper and reinforced with a fabric spine and corners.  The blank page books come with a writing guide with lines on one side and a grid on the other.

Because the paper is only 90gsm it’s best used with dry media, or at most light washes as it will buckle if you add a lot of water.  In the one drawing I’ve done, I did get some buckling but no bleedthrough or ghosting.  I’m really happy with it; it feels so good in the hand.  I just might have to get one of the thicker ones the next time I’m in Montreal.

100 People – Day 5

#oneweek100people2018 – I gave it a valiant effort, but starting on day three and having a bit of bad luck resulted in my coming up short for this challenge.  Yesterday afternoon I got a chance to draw some floating heads, which brought my people count to 82.  Since I’d done that in two days, I felt it was be a cinch to get the remaining 18 on Friday.  Silly me.

Today I went to a different mall around lunch time.  Their food court is organized to make it an excellent place to sketch, but not today.  Today was the last day of spring break and the mall was having a bunch of activities for kids.  The place was packed.  There were no seats and even if there were it wouldn’t have mattered because the place was so stressful from all the kids running around that I couldn’t stand to be there.  Chalk that up to me being a grumpy old man.  Anyways, I managed to draw a couple people before I gave, got on the bus, and came home.  Hope I have better luck next year.  Hope Marc and Liz decide to do it again as I love seeing all the people sketches.

100 People – Day 4

#oneweek100people2018 – It occurs to me that my attempts to ‘catch up’ after missing the first two days of this five day challenge is becoming a “how can Larry embarrass himself further?” affair.  So be it.  I’m scrambling for numbers and it seems almost comical how I’m stumbling to the finish line of this challenge.

I woke this morning determined to get from 42 (done yesterday) to 70 or so to give myself a chance to complete the challenge on Friday.  I started today’s activities by ‘experimenting’ with the notion of doing a bunch of people direct with watercolor.  These were done on a 5×7 piece of watercolor paper.  What I learned is that I don’t know how but I’m going to count the eight little people I did during this experiment.  Once this challenge is over I’ll continue this experiment and maybe, after a few hundred of them, I’ll figure out how to paint people.

Since that wasn’t going to work for me I grabbed a sketchbook, a Pilot parallel pen, and a Pilot Metropolitan and I headed to the coffee shop.  There is a bus stop across the street so I figured I could sit in the coffee shop window and have lots of ‘targets.’  A couple things were wrong with that idea.

The first problem is that I was reminded that if a large truck gets between me and my subject, I have a hard time drawing that subject.  And, it seemed, every time the street light changed, a large truck had to stop – right in front of the people waiting at the bus stop.  This slowed progress considerably, but I was enjoying a nice coffee so my patience, while challenged, was sufficient.

I was sketching along with the parallel pen when it ran out of ink.  No big deal; I just switched to the Metropolitan.  I like the Metropolitan and don’t use it enough.  I was sketching along, though visibility was becoming reduced by a blizzard and the fact that people waiting for the bus started huddling inside the bus stop cubicle.  Then my Metropolitan ran out of ink.  This pen sits on my desk at home and I realized that it had been a long time since I’d checked its ink load.  My sketching session was over for the day.

The 25 people I had scribbled brought my total for the week to 75 so I do have a chance to make it to 100 if I can get out an about tomorrow.  Sorry for the sad lot of kinda-sorta-maybe people on display here.

100 People – Day Three

#oneweek100people2018 – When Liz Steel and Marc Taro Holmes announced they were doing the 100 people in five days thing they did last year, I was all in.  It was a lot of fun last year and just the thing to rev the engines a bit, though drawing people is not my favorite thing.  But when Monday, March 5th, rolled around my arthritic hands were locked up tighter than a …err…well, they weren’t functioning very well.  The same was true on Tuesday so I told Marc I would have to pass on the event.

Yesterday, my hands were better, though they seem to have a mind of their own right now, and I headed to the mall to draw people.  I figured that if I was to catch up I would have to go into overdrive, maybe even cheating a bit to get the job done.  So, with a cup of coffee, I sat down in front of a McDonalds in the food court and started quickly sketching people who were waiting for their orders.  Nothing very artistic about the process, I was almost literally scribbling, but one hour later I ended up with 42 kinda-sorta people blobs in my Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5) sketchbook.  I then headed off to an appointment.

Once I got home, I applied colors somewhat randomly.  If I’d been true to the actual colors most of the coats would have been black.  Quebecers are not known for their bright colors.  I know I’ll not likely make 100 people given I gave all of you a two day head start but I feel good that I’ve put a dent in the goal.  We’ll see what today brings.

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.