Road Trip To Montreal – Part One

The last time I left home on a sketching trip was in 2017 when I went to meet Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel for the best sketching day of my life.  Since then health issues hobbled me (quite literally) for nearly two years, part of which I couldn’t hold a pencil, let alone draw with one.

So, it was no small thing for me to head to the bus depot and head down the road, thanks to my rheumatologist.  I was going to Montreal to see my daughter but also to meet up with Marc for a couple sketching sessions.  There would be lots of chatting involved as well since we hadn’t seen each other for so long.

The bus was to depart at 5AM so, a bit bleary-eyed I sat at the bus station at 4:45.  What’s a guy to do but draw.  I did a couple quick sketches before they started loading the bus.  Here they are.

I’m a look-y-lu when I travel and don’t have to drive.  I can’t wait to see the sights as we whiz along the highway.  Once the sun started to come up I saw turkeys, deer, a couple ravens, some ducks and a lot of landscape and architecture.

When I arrived in Montreal the first thing I had to do was coax my bum leg to climb a significant hill to get to my daughter’s apartment, and I did, albeit slowly.  The two of us had breakfast and then parted as I headed to meet Marc.  After a bit of a snafu (sp?) about which Starbucks we were going to meet in, we used the magic of our cell phones to find each other.

The day was amazing for the beginning of March in Quebec.  It wasn’t bitterly cold.  In fact, it was sunny and about 2C and for crazy sketchers, that’s sketching weather… almost.  Marc and I decided to draw the top of a large cathedral that’s downtown.  There’s a park right next to it, too close to draw the cathedral from, but we decided to find a bench and draw.  We found benches but they were covered in snow so we sat on the backs of a bench and drew.

This turned out to be an experiment on more than a leg-testing level.  Marc is always suggesting that I draw too slow.  It’s hard to argue because molasses runs downhill faster than I draw.  My problem is that if I start drawing fast I lose control of the proportions, leave important stuff out, etc.  Still, I was determined to try and, truth be told, I had to do this to keep up with Marc, who does magnificent drawings in mere minutes.

And so I drew two of the domes quickly, trying my best not to distort them too much.  It suited the winter weather conditions to sketch quickly.

With that sketch done, we started looking for something else to draw.  This was hard because of all the snow and the need to sit in the sun.  It was also starting to get breezy so we decided to go into the cathedral.  I made several quick sketches but when a church service started both Marc and I felt like interlopers and so we decided to leave.  Here’s one of my sketches.

Strathmore Mixed-Media (184lb), DeAtramentis Brown ink

Marc directed us to an observation area in, I think, the Bonaventure Hotel where we looked out over the city and the same cathedral we drew earlier.  Maintaining my frantic (for me) sketching pace, I quickly sketched a lot of the roof tops of the cathedral.  Something of a strange view but one, I’m sure, is familiar to the resident pigeon population.

Strathmore Mixed-Media (184lb), DeAtramentis Brown ink

I never did complete it because I also wanted to draw another church nearby.   We both were getting hungry so we headed for a nearby food court and spent the afternoon talking art and solving the world’s problems.  With the world’s problems solved, we headed to Marc’s house where I spent a spectacular evening with Marc and Laurel.  In spite of a lot of walking my leg held up pretty well.  Some limping did occur but it was not extreme.

This post has gotten pretty long so I’m going to stop here.  I’ll show you what I did on day two in the next post.  As Tigger says, Ta, Ta, For Now.

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.