Sketching Other People’s Art

Last Sunday Yvan, Pierre, Celine and I headed to the Musee de L’Amerique Francais because they were launching a new display of art done in Quebec long ago and donated to the Catholic church who kept the collection in their museum.  We didn’t know what to expect but since it’s still too cold for outdoor sketching, what the heck, we were going sketch art.

Much of the art in this collection is religious art, not my favorite way to use display space.  I find most of it too gawdy and repetitious.  But one room was filled with some amazing Quebecois pieces, many that would be considered ‘urban’ art today.  I was looking for a new challenge, something different… at least for me.

2013-03-10BronzeStatueAfter looking around, I settled down to sketch a bronze statue of a woman carrying a heavy bucket.  I was struck by how well the sculpture captured the physical effort and body/arm positioning to maintain balance with a heavy bucket in one hand.

This was a considerable leap for me as I’m not good at drawing human forms and I had no idea how to make one look like a bronze statue.  Still, it was fun.  I drew it in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon (5.5×8.5) with a Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray.  I used watercolor pencils to fake the bronze look.

There were many paintings that seemed worthy of turning them into a Larry sketch but one in particular caught my eye.  It was a painting of a 19th Century seminary courtyard, a courtyard that was actually just next door to the museum.  I went outside to look at the real thing and found what a hundred years can do.  The basic building layout remained.  In fact, on one edge of the courtyard, the end where the artist stood, there exists the remains of an old wall, clearly a very old wall.

Aside from that, everything had been remodeled and updated.  The two main buildings had an extra story added to them and all the windows had been modernized.  The stairway was gone adn the entries had modern doors.  It definitely looked cooler in the 19th Century so I went back indoors where it was warm.

2013-03-10SeminaryCourtyard800
I’d never sketched an oil painting before and converting it to my cartoon sketching style did present some challenges, but it was fun, too.  Done in the same S&B sketchbook but with a Lamy Safari as my Prera ran out of ink .   I’m not sure I’ll add color to it as I like it au natural.

We’ve vowed to return to sketch some other pieces, particularly some of the sculptures.   A great day was had by all, but every sketching day is a great day, isn’t it?

Nigerian Statues And Museum Sketching

I continue to use our Musee de la Civilisation as though it were closing soon.  That’s not the case, thank goodness, but I need need my daily fixes of sketching, now, don’t I?

I’ve switched my attention from Nigerian masks to Nigerian statues, of which there are many in the exhibit.  Before sharing them with you, however, I thought I’d talk a bit about sketching in museums.

Museum Sketching

I’m no expert about anything related to sketching but I play the role of an urban sketcher almost daily.  Because it’s cold in Quebec, my urban sketching for the past few months has been in museums and here are a few things I’ve learned.

1) Know the rules

Every museum has rules and the best way to get on the good side of the administration and security is to follow them.  Even inquiring about rules is seen as a good thing.

2) Talk to the people who work there

This is particularly important.  Show them your sketches.  Tell them how great it is that you can sketch in ‘their’ museum.  Make a point of asking if your location is ok, and try to choose locations that will be out of the way of people wandering the museum.  There’s no need to hide but often a bit of thought leads to a good compromise.

3) Adjust your materials to a museum milieu

My outdoor sketching kit includes watercolors, collapsible brushes and small bottles of water.  My museum kit includes watercolor pencils and a waterbrush.  If you use a pencil, consider switching from an eraser that drops debris all over the floor to a kneaded eraser.  And keep your working footprint as small as possible.  I have a tripod stool and my small art bag leans against it behind my feet while I’m sketching.

4) Buy a light

MuseumKitMuseums often keep light levels low in their exhibit rooms because many of the artifacts can be damaged by light.  Buy a clip on light to illuminate your work.  These are inexpensive – mine cost me $13.

I also carry a small piece of masonite, cut to the size of an open sketchbook.  I clip the sketchbook to this, making this unit easy to hold while walking around.  It serves two purposes.  One is to support the sketchbook while you sketch but the other is to keep it open when you’re not as open sketchbooks stimulate more interest from museum-goers.

5) Talk to patrons

Museum goers are curious folks and they’ll be curious about your sketching.  Talk to them; particularly the kids, who are often more bold than their parents.  Engage them in conversations.  Not only is this fun, if done regularly, the museum staff will notice and come to understand that you are an asset as well as a dumb cluck who sits in their museum day after day sketching.

About Them Nigerian Statues

2013-03-02Nigeria1I promised some Nigerian statue sketches.  Here are a few that I’ve done recently.  All are done with Pilot Prera, Lex Gray ink, in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook.

While the masks seem to be made of wood, the statues are made from a variety of materials.  This one is carved from a gray rock that looks like granite.  It is truly gorgeous, much more so than my sketch indicates.

2013-03-03Nigeria1I fell in love with this bird which isn’t, strictly speaking, a statue.  Rather, it’s a stopper for a large jug of some kind (thus the pointy thing at the bottom)  It’s made from wood and, as tradition seem prone to dictate, covered in a very thin mud of some kind.

2013-03-03Nigeria2This next one isn’t a statue either.  The large hollowed out area on its belly serves as a cup and, somehow, it’s used during funeral ceremonies.  The sign says it allows two people to drink simultaneously.  All I can say is that they’d better be very good friends.

2013-03-03Nigeria3This is a wonderful statue of a person carrying a child on their back.  Very stylistic in its elongated proportions, I just love it.  It’s made of wood with a sculpted clay covering and is more sophisticated than many of the other wood statues.

I’m hoping spring will be sprung from its hiding place ‘real soon’ and I can get back on the street.  Until that time, I’ve got lots of great statues to sketch.  Hope you’ve got a museum too.

 

The Hidden Fun Of Urban Sketching

2013-02-23Hockey1We’re lucky in Quebec City.  Every year we host the International PeeWee Hockey Tournament.  Kids come from around the world to spend 10 days playing hockey and walking around saying “Bonjour” to everyone because it’s the only French word they know.  I know the feeling.

2013-02-23Hockey2We live down the street from one of the two venues where the tournament takes place and I was shoveling snow when one such group walked by my house.  Several of them used their one French word but one kid said, “We really like your snow.”  They were from Maryland.  When I said, in English, “You can have all and I’ll help you load it,” I swear a couple of them jumped off the ground.    2013-02-23Hockey3

2013-02-23Hockey6But this post isn’t about hockey, Pee Wee or otherwise.  It’s about sketching.  But it’s not about the sketches I’m presenting either.  Rather, it’s a post about the evening I spent with my family and thousands of hockey fans.

My habit of sketching every time I stop moving found me sitting among cheering fans, watching hockey and sketching, trying to create quick hockey player sketches by jumping from one player to another to grab a complete outline.  I’d never done that before and the results show my lack of experience with the technique.  But it was a LOT of fun and when the dust settled, I’d done eleven pages (5.5×8.5) of the darn things.2013-02-23Hockey7

Ok…so if the post isn’t about hockey, and it isn’t about sketches, why are you reading this, you ask.  I want to tell you a couple short stories about my interactions with some of the spectators.  Too often I hear people say they are too shy or not good enough to sketch in public.  These two stories, I hope, will convince you that none of that matters and that people LOVE sketchers.

2013-02-23Hockey8The first story begins between periods during the second game.  The players has just returned to the ice and I was sketching, as I had been for the past couple hours.  There was a very gentle tap on my left shoulder.  I turned to find it had come from the finger of a young girl, probably no more than 12-13 years old.  She very shyly said, “Do you speak French?”  I guess she’d heard me speaking English.  I told her yes and she immediately looked up a couple rows and waved. Another young girl jumped up and ran down to us.  “Hic c’est beau!  J’aime beaucoup vos esquisses,” (I think) immediately came from her and she asked if she could see all of my sketches.  Of course I complied, sheepishly showing her these crude sketches as she went on and on about how great they were.  I showed her my pens, my waterbrush, and how I used the waterbrush to shade the sketches.  They were thrilled; I was chuffed.  Nothing like an appreciative audience (grin).

At the end of the second game I got a cup of tea.  The food vendor lady ‘made’ me a tea, stuffing a tea bag in a styrofoam cup full of hot water.  I guess she was more used to people ordering coffee as she said, “I don’t know how to make tea.  If it’s no good I’ll give you your money back.”  I just smiled.  Quebecers are so nice.

2013-02-23Hockey9As there were no skaters on the ice I did a quick sketch of the Zamboni (ice cleaning machine) and then decided to sketch a guy who was sitting a couple rows below me.  Again, it was just a quick sketch, but at least he wasn’t in constant motion.  I was nearly finished when I got a tap on my shoulder.  This time it was a great big guy who was sitting behind me.  He asked “Are you drawing that guy down there?” and he pointed at the guy I was sketching.  My immediate thought was “Oh crap, I’m in trouble now”, but I admitted that I was.   I didn’t dare let on that I didn’t think it was even close to a likeness as he obviously saw something I didn’t.  He said, “That’s what I thought.  He’s my friend,” and he stood up and yelled, “Marcel, viens ici”  Marcel turned around, got up and came up to where we were sitting.  I showed him the sketch, he told me it was nice, the two friends kibbitzed a bit and he returned to his seat, and I did a quick shading of the sketch.

Sketching on location is special, even if nobody talks to you.  But when they do, it’s really special.  I’m convinced that there are people in the world who think my sketches are horrible and a waste of time…but they never talk to me.

 

Urban Sketching, Nigeria Style

2013-02-17Nigeria2Now that the Samurai exhibit has left our museum I’ve been concentrating more on the Nigerian exhibit.  The more I sketch it the more I gain insights into life as an urban Nigerian of the past.  While many (most?) of the masks, crests and statues that make up the exhibit were ceremonial in nature, the early Nigerians used carvings to grace everything.  If they needed to stopper a bottle, they made a plug with a head or statue on top of it.  Combs were carved from wood and had ornate handles.  Even spoons and ladles were handsomely carved.  Because of this, there’s a lot to sketch and because of the complexity of these objects, it’s the best sketching practice an urban sketcher could want.

2013-02-19Nigeria1Here are some examples of what I’ve done recently.  All were done in an Stillman and Birn Epsilon sketchbook (5.5×8.5) and all with a Pilot Prera pen filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.

2013-02-17Nigeria1Color comes from watercolor pencils as they’re just more convenient in museum setting than are my actual watercolors.

Have you done any sketching in museums?  If so, do you find it fun?

2013-02-19Nigeria2

 

Urban Sketchers Always Have Things To Draw

If your interests lie in drawing naked people, you need a model.  If you paint landscapes, you need to go to pretty places.  If you’re into aviation art, you need to hang out at airports or aviation museums.  But if you’re an urban sketcher, all you have to do is live your life with a sketchbook in your hand.  There’s always something to sketch.   I’m an urban sketcher.

2013-02-20BloodTests1I went for some blood tests yesterday and, of course, I had my sketching stuff with me.  From past experience I knew I’d have 10-15 minutes to wait before Dracula called me to be poked and so I checked in, sat down, and got out my sketchbook.  I thought about sketching a wheelchair that was sitting in the corner, or the receptionist’s area.  But I noticed a steady flow of people walking up to the receptionist, where you have to shove our paperwork through a slot; they confirm who you are, and then the receptionist provides instructions which mostly amount to ‘go sit down and we’ll call you.’

2013-02-20BloodTests3So I started quick-sketching these people.  It was a study in quickly grabbing the outlines of coats, purses and legs because you couldn’t see their heads, which were behind partitions that divided the 3 reception windows.  And it was fun.  My waiting time went by too quickly.

2013-02-20BloodTests2Here are three examples of those sketches.  Simple, good practice, and fun.  Done in a Strathmore ‘toned’ paper sketchbook with a Pilot Metropolitan and Waterman Absolute Brown ink.  A bit of it was quickly washed into a form of shading using a waterbrush.

Museum Sketching – A Location Sketcher’s Winter Salvation

Last summer was my first as a location sketcher – actually it was my first summer as any kind of sketcher.  I fell in love with the process and excitement of being out on the street, soaking up the sun and ambiance while sketching.  Quickly the early fears I had about people talking to me became one of the joys of the sketching experience.

And so I faced winter somewhat depressed as it becomes too cold for man nor beast to be on the streets of Quebec and I thought I’d have to do my sketching at home, in my office.  That has never interested me much, but then a couple fellow sketchers said, “We sometimes sketch at the museum – want to come?” and my world changed overnight.

I got a permit to sketch at the art museum.  I became a member of our Musee de la Civilisation, which also gave me access three other, smaller museums.  And I’ve met new people, had new challenges, experimented with new materials and learned a lot about seeing complex objects while drawing same with minimal equipment.  I’m sketching as much this winter as I did during summer.  The subjects have changed, but I feed my desire to sketch real things, in real time, without having to resort to drawing my spatula and coffee cup (grin).

BretonYvan_2013-02-12_Larry-Marshall-at-Civilisation

If that weren’t enough, Yvan Breton has become a good friend who is an architect and long-time artist.  He’s become both a companion when I sketch and my mentor.  His style and mine are quite different but he’s taught me more in the past couple months than I learned in my entire first year of sketching.  I confess that all the information he’s provided has my poor old brain scattered and flailing to keep up with all the ‘gotta try that…’ feelings I’m having right now but hey, that’s part of the fun.

Nigerian mask, done in Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5x8.5) sketchbooks, Pilot Prera/Noodler's Lex Gray.

Nigerian mask, done in Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5) sketchbooks, Pilot Prera/Noodler’s Lex Gray. Partially sketched while Yvan was sketching me.

The sketch above is of me, by Yvan.  He did this “quick sketch” while I was sketching in the Nigeria exhibit at the museum last Tuesday.  It’s one of my prized possessions.

I’ll complete this post by showing you several of the sketches I’ve had opportunity to do in the last week.  I think you’ll agree that the variety is far greater than my summer sketches, which are mostly buildings – my first love.

Another mask, S&B sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lex Gray

Another mask, S&B sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lex Gray

While we’ve sketched some of the Nigerian exhibit already, we’re starting to spend more time there because the Samurai exhibit is leaving on Sunday.  The funny thing about the Nigerian exhibit is that it’s full of great items to sketch but, it seems, they don’t become ‘great’ until you actually start looking at them as a sketching subject.  One is deceived by a walk-around in the exhibit and you conclude the items are a bunch of very similar, primitive sculptures.  Primitive yes, similar, not so much.  So many shapes, so many surfaces.  Wow!

2013-02-10GenghisKhanWe spent last Sunday at the Musee de Amerique Francais, where I sketched Genghis Khan, or at least a mannequin wearing the Genghis Khan suit used in the movie Night at the Museum.  This was done in a Strathmore 400 “gray” sketchbook using Noodler’s Brown in a Pilot Prera.  Lots of fun, though all those squares drove me nuts.

2013-02-10CirqueSoleilHeadsWhen I was done, I turned my attention to some large paper mache heads used by the Cirque de Soleil in their show.  These were ‘I gotta draw those’ subjects but I approached them with some trepidation.  In the end they were lots of fun.  Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, Pilot Prera/Lexington Gray and Faber-Castell watercolor pencils for this one.

2013-02-13Samourai700I’ll conclude by sharing my full Samurai suit sketch.  I’d promised myself that I’d do one before the exhibit left… just as soon as my skills began to match the amazing subjects.  I didn’t quite make it on the skills end but, before the exhibit leaves on Sunday, I did sketch this one.  I apologize for the absolutely weird positioning of the mannequin.  That’s not me distorting it; that’s how they had it positioned.  All of them were somewhat unnatural in their orientations in my opinion.  This one done in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.

If you scroll back through the blog you’ll find lots of Samurai helmets, sketches of Joe Fafard sculptures, other Nigerian masks, and other stuff.  Museum sketching is really fun.  If you haven’t already, give it a try.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

 

 

Back To The Museum – More Samurai Helmets

I was back at the museum this morning and met up with sketching buddies Yvan and Claudette.  In spite of the museum being over-run by several bus loads of kids, we had a good time.  It was just a bit more noisy.

2013-02-06Samurai12-700We decided we should take advantage of the Samurai exhibit as it’s going to be leaving in two weeks.  I love sketching the many amazing helmets in this display and so that’s what I did.  Here are two more.

The first sketch is a bit of a bit different from the other dozen helmet sketches that I’ve done in that I did this one very quickly.  Typically I’ll take an hour or so to do one.  I did this one in 15-20 minutes.  I just wanted to see how my quick-sketching skills had improved.  Done with a Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray ink in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook.  I was happy with the experiment.

2013-02-06Samurai13-700This one did take me about an hour but this helmet deserved the time.  Representing two bamboo/metal pipes, one on each side, the metalwork here is really outstanding.  Much about these helmets is demonstrate status but it was also about identity, as on a Samurai battlefield there were no cell phones; only “There he is.  See his helmet?” recognition of your fellow soldiers.

For me these helmets are incredible pieces of art and an opportunity to develop my drawing skills, which need all the help they can get (grin).  Same tools, same sketchbook for this one.

I’m getting a lot of bang for the buck from my museum membership.  Another three+ months of winter will ensure that it’s the best bang for the buck I’ve ever received.

 

A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations

“A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations” is a famous line by Clint Eastwood in one of his Dirty Harry movies.  And yesterday, that quote came to mind.  I was in the Nigeria exhibit of the Musee de la Civilisation and attempting to sketch a complex ceremonial head dress.  If one squints it looks like the caricature of a rocket ship with a head on the front of it.  If you look at it closely, however, you see that it has a head/face on one end, and another, more stylized face, with a couple of tusks on the other.  These two ‘heads’ are separated by a large, half-disk that holds the eyes of the second head.  It’s about 2-feet long and someone wore it on their head.

I just had to sketch it.  I was in the mood to give a pencil another try, though I don’t know why I punish myself like that.  Pencils and I don’t get along and my results are always smeared by the very action of creating them.  Have I mentioned that I’m a pen guy?

Anyways, there isn’t a vertical or horizontal line in this object but I started by drawing a square, somewhat tilted to reflect the main ‘body’ of the object.  This set the angle for the large plate and that back end that looks like a doghouse.

2013-02-05NigeriaRocket700A ball drawn in front of it and a couple sticks out the back and I had the ‘bones’ for this sketch.  I started the actual drawing by doing the measure-with-your-pencil trick to determine what part of this object went through the centerpoint of the drawing and I roughed that in.  Then, he said confidently, the rest was just a matter of filling out/in the bones… and it only took forever and half a dozen Staedtler erasers.  I guess that’s a slight exaggeration – it only felt that way.

2013-02-05NigeriaCombOnce I finished this sketch I decided to do something a bit more tame so I quickly sketched this wooden Nigerian comb.  This one was also done in pencil but in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook and I added a few scribbles of watercolor pencil.

What object(s) show you your limitations as a sketcher?

 

Museum Sketching With Claudette

What’s going on?  Last week it was so cold that it was fashionable to run outside with a bucket of hot water, throw it up in the air and watch it turn instantly to snow.  Those -30C temps are tough so mostly we just stay indoors.  But this week, we’re 40-degrees warmer than that and it’s RAINING!   This doesn’t happen in Quebec, in February.  These temps, however, are much easier to take.

And so it was, yesterday, when I walked in the rain to the Musee de l’Amerique francais to meet up with a new sketching buddy, Claudette Gauvreau, a very talented sketcher.  I met her at our last sketchcrawl and we agreed meet at the museum for a sketching session.

2013_01-30ChapelOrgan700I got there about half an hour or so before our scheduled meet time and decided to sketch an organ that sits high above the floor of a chapel associated with the museum.  I always struggle with perspective when I have to look up this much and this case was no exception.  I started with pencil, drawing and redrawing the basic columns and the ceiling curves.  I even drew a big cube where the organ sits before turning to pen to do the actual sketch.

When Claudette arrived she needed to do some work in the chapel as well so I continued working and finished up the pen work.  I did it in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook using Pilot Prera and Metropolitan pens filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.  Shading was done with a Derwent Graphitone 8B pencil.  These pencils are great because once you hit them with a waterbrush they ‘set’ and you can put watercolor washes over it.

ClaudetteBalastradeClaudette finished up this great sketch of part of the railing around the main seating area, which holds a bunch of round banquet tables these days.  I can’t speak to materials used but isn’t it great?  The small bit at the bottom is an example of the flooring.

We headed into the museum where we sat in comfy sofas and sketched mannequins dressed in costumes used in movies and created by French costume designers.  She started sketching the cowboy character that Owen Wilson played in Night at the Museum, while I decided to do something I’d never done.  I sketched a Victorian dress using only a pen.  I’m fascinated by clothing folds and want to learn to draw them in ink.

2013_01-30VictorianDress700Anyways, in the time it took me to do this sketch, Claudette finished drawing her cowboy, then drew a security guard and an indian from the same movie.  Then she wandered off to look at the exhibits while I finished up my single figure.  Have I mentioned that I’m slow at sketching (grin)?  This sketch was done with a Pilot G-TEC-C3, hybrid ink pen on Strathmore Series 400 toned gray paper (5.5×8.5).  I wish I could show you Claudette’s sketches but I didn’t think to take a photo.

Next Wednesday, we’re meeting at the Musee de la Civilisation.  Want to join us?

Music, Friends and Sketching – A Very Good Day

One of the great things about Quebec City is that there are a lot of free concerts.  Many are associated with the conservatory here and are mostly students – really good students.

Another source of free concerts are the ‘mid-day’ concerts associated with the Grand Théâtre de Québec.  This venue is the site of operatic and symphonic programs, musical plays, and a bunch of big name but not big venue performers.  I saw B.B. King there.

The mid-day concerts are held on the second floor foyer, however, and once they’ve set up a stage and a bunch of chairs, it’s about the size of a decent sit-down night club without the booze, though you can get coffee and danish.

And that’s where I was today, to listen to a fantastic group of six jazz singers, all people too young to have so much talent.  2013_01-27TheatreTreeI arrived a little after ten AM and the concert didn’t start until eleven, though I got a mini-concert as the group went through a couple numbers, getting warmed up and checking equipment, I suppose.  With little to do besides look out the window, that’s what I did.  I got together with this pine tree, which also didn’t seem to have much to do, and we made this sketch together.  We had a good time together.

But when Yvan arrived, the fickle friend that I am completely ignored my pine tree friend.  Yvan and I talked about sketching, his new sketchbook, the Series 400 toned paper that Strathmore is selling and some other stuff.  When we could, we went up and staked out some primo sketching seats, saving one for Celine.

Celine and Yvan are quite comfortable doing really great sketches of singers and musicians.  Myself, I still struggle with people who are moving around a lot.  Heck, who am I kidding.  I still have trouble sketching people who are comatose.  Yvan has explained, in his patient manner that ALL I have to do is choose a position the person returns to frequently and sketch that position.  So far my brain hasn’t gotten the message as it can’t quite sift through all the movement.  Practice, practice, practice…

2013_01-27Spectator1While I tried to sketch the singers, I didn’t do so well.  So, I sketched people who were in the audience.  These were all very quick sketches – another problem my brain has when in a crowd of people moving around.  My brain goes into “you’ve only got a minute, dummy, go fast…blindingly fast.”  So, while these spectators were going to stay put for me for the duration of the concert, I was doing 1-2 minute quick sketches.  Darn brain.

2013_01-27Spectator2All of these sketches were done in a 3×5 sketchbook using a Platinum Carbon Black fountain pen, filled with PCB ink.  I’ve come to like this pen a lot for detail sketching as it’s really fine, like a .005 Micron.  I’m not so sure about it as a people sketching pen for the same reason – the lines are just too fine.

The music was fantastic, being with my sketching buddies always a good time, and there’s no such thing as a bad sketch if you view sketching fun as coming from the process, not the result.  I do.

2013-01-26GuyReadingAs long as I’m talking about people sketching, here’s a slightly better sketch I did the day before, of a cooperative guy who sat reading.  He changed his position only once in the 10 minutes or so I spent sketching him which I thought quite considerate.  This sketch was done with my Hero 578 “Chinese calligraphy” (tip bent upward) pen, Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink, and a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook.  You can see that I can get variable line thickness from this pen and I think it adds something to the sketch.