Sometimes You Just Need A Challenge

ArtisticLicenseIf you know Brenda Swenson’s “75-day Challenge”, you know the concept of casting aside the pencil, even for organizational purposes and sketching directly with pen.  It’s said, and I believe it to be true, that doing so for a lot of sketches, will improve your ability to see and put what you see on paper.  The process moves a lot of thinking to early in the process, ensuring that when you do lay down a line it’s in the right place.

I do a lot of ink work but typically use a pencil to lightly outline main masses and relationships in a sketch.  But sometimes a guy just needs a challenge and I was feeling like one when I started looking at this railing and post.

I set up to sketch it (Stillman & Birn Zeta -5×8, Pilot Prera) and decided to do it ‘ink-only’, though I confess that I drew a pencil horizontal line at the top of the railing and a vertical line at the inside of the post.  Then I got out my pen and stared.  And then I stared some more, measuring, seeing, and occasionally putting a dot on my paper.  Then I drew the lines… and the curves.  For me it was a struggle with all the curved wrought iron to render.  And there are screw ups… there are always screw ups.  It’s my signature move.  But generally, I like the results and had a lot of fun with the process.

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While Walking Through The Park One Day….

Yvan and I planned a sketching session on St. Denis street and we were to meet there.  This street has many majestic residences and a large grassy area in front of them so it’s an ideal place to sketch.

As I arrived I realized that I’d forgotten my WalkStool.  This is a big problem as my knees and me don’t much like sitting on the ground, for fear that we’ll never be able to get back up.

And so the search began for a sitting place with something in front of me to sketch.  It’s not really rocket science but I wandered around for a while before finding such a combination.  I ended up in the Parc des Governeurs, a small park between the Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City’s tourist landmark and the American consulate.

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Both of these buildings are great sketching subjects but I chose this more humble structure that sits in the park.  Yvan suggested that it was once a toilet but these days it looks to be used by maintenance people.  In any case, it had a bench, in the shade, and so I sketched it in my Stillman & Birn Zeta (5×8) with a Pilot Prera and Platinum Carbon Black ink.  I used Lexington Gray for the stairs in the background.  I’m enjoying the contrast between these two inks.  As always, I used Winsor & Newton watercolors like crayons to add some color.

Ferry Dock Sketching

I use any excuse to take the ferry from Quebec City to Levis, which is on the other side of the St. Lawrence River from us.  I do it because 1) I like boats, 2) my bus pass makes it free, and 3) did I mention that I like boats?

On this day, I did it because Yvan wanted to sketch the ferry station, which is an old train station that’s been sort of messed up by neglect and its conversion into a ferry dock.  But they’re planning on tearing it down and he wanted a sketch of it.  Seemed like a plan to me.

But when I got there, something about sketching the station just didn’t turn my crank that morning so I found an alternative, this building that was probably a hotel at some point and may still be.  I like the way the cliff jutted up above, dwarfing what is actually a very large building.
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It was done in a Stillman & Birn Zeta (5×8) sketchbook with Pilot Preras and Platinum Carbon Black and Noodler’s Lexington gray inks.  Hope you like it.  It was sure fun.

Do You Sketch Small?

I’ve always carried a small sketchbook with me for doing quick-sketches of things.  But more and more I’ve been sketching in 5×8 or 10×7 sketchbooks. Working larger is fun and lets me ‘stretch’ my gaze a bit more.  The result is that my small sketchbook became a cheap dollar store sketchbook that wouldn’t tolerate watercolors while my larger sketchbooks are all Stillman & Birn, first-class sketchbooks. The ‘gap’ between small and large had become greater in my sketching.

So I tried one of Stillman & Birn’s 4×6 sketchbooks.  In fact, I’ve nearly filled two of them.  The paper is fantastic, as always, but a 4×6, thick sketchbook is too ‘big’ to be called a ‘small’ sketchbook, at least for this street sketcher.  I need something I can stuff in a pocket.

And so I bought a Moleskine watercolor book.  I don’t much like its landscape layout but it’s tolerable in this small size.  The larger one is almost painful to manage if you try to balance it on your knee while sitting on a stool, which is my typical approach.  I do wish they’d produce a portrait format sketchbook with their watercolor paper.  Heck, what I really wish is that Stillman & Birn would produce a thin (30pages?) 3×5 sketchbook with their Epsilon paper.  Then I’d be a very happy sketcher.

This is a Celtic Cross in Artillery Park. 3x5 and done with a Pilot Prera.

This is a Celtic Cross in Artillery Park. Done with a Pilot Prera.

Anyways, I’ve started doing small pen & ink watercolors again and I’m really enjoying it.  I thought I’d share some with you.  All of these were done in the tiny Moleskine.  I’ll mention the pen used in captions.

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Factory building along the Riviere St. Charles. Sakura Micron 01.

Lamp on Plains of Abraham. Uniball Signo UM-151 "brown-black" .28

Lamp on Plains of Abraham. Uniball Signo UM-151 “brown-black” .28

 

Cast metal fountain on Plains of Abraham.  Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black.

Cast metal fountain on Plains of Abraham. Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black.

Large light inside the Kent Gate. Pilot Prera.

Large light inside the Kent Gate. Pilot Prera.

Cartier-Brebeuf Park. Pilot Prera

Cartier-Brebeuf Park. Pilot Prera

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Pilot Prera w/Platinum Carbon Black

A Red Flag Will Stop A Sketcher Every Time

As an urban sketcher, with a penchant for the mundane, I couldn’t pass up this scene. The railroad track in the background feeds into the train station here in Quebec City. A passenger train was headed inbound. The track in the foreground is a seldom-used track that allows a connection between a huge cargo facility on one side of a river and another one on the other side. Not much traffic but they’re not interested in any at all when the passenger trains come and go (only a few times a day).

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And so, they clip this flag to the track, to let anyone thinking of taking their train engine for a spin, not to do it. The bright red flag created an interesting scene, at least to me. Done in my Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) with a Pilot Prera, PCB ink, W&N artist watercolors and limited skill.

Urban Sketcher Communes With Nature

I had a wonderful time last Saturday.  I was invited to the house of long-time friend, Pierre Therrien, along with two other sketching buddies, one of them being Pierre’s constant companion and main squeeze, Celine.

I picked Yvan up and we headed to Pierre’s house, which is just south of the North Pole, I think.  We drove and drove and drove.  Pierre lives in a forest.  His home looks out on gorgeous forested landscape areas and is near Jacques Cartier River, a very sketch-ogenic river.  It is a sketcher’s dream.

We spent the first hour chatting about everything and anything and spent some time drooling over his art library.  Then we decided that maybe sketching time was wasting away so we headed outside and broke out the pointy devices.  Yvan, Celine and Pierre set up in front of the house to draw the ‘paysage’ that splays out in front of it and ends with a backdrop of the Laurentian mountains which, to a Rocky Mountain guy like myself, have always more resembled hills than mountains.  Everything’s relative, I guess, and so are mountains.

2013-07-06_Larry-chez-Pierre_St-Gabriel-Valcartier_4_smBut I’m an urban sketcher so I started wandering around.  I found myself in a far corner of a field, looking back at Pierre’s house.  Photo is courtesy of Yvan.  You can see that I was very comfy as I had a full chair rather than my stool.

All alone was I, except for the curious ants, too many biting flies and a Theridid spider.  I tried to strike up a conversation with the spider but she didn’t say much.  She just glared at me for plunking my chair down so close to her web.

Here’s the view I had and the partially completed sketch:

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I had decided to try out my new Uniball UM-151 (.28mm) pen on Stillman & Birn Alpha paper and I’ve concluded that it’s a wonderful combination.  I’m going to be ordering some more of them ‘real soon.’

After lunch I returned to my perch, with the addition of a portable umbrella that shaded me from what was now a very hot sun.  I completed the ink sketch and added color, using a waterbrush and W&N artist colors.  I’m a hack watercolorists but I’ve got to get back to using real brushes.  Here’s the finished sketch:

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Sketching On A Summer Morning

It’s fun to be out sketching early in the morning.  Quebec City wakes up slowly and if you are out walking at 7AM, you’re mostly alone.  Of course this morning I met up with my buddy Yvan and we found ourselves on Rue des Remparts, a great sketching street that skirts the upper portion of the old city.  We chose a scene, that was really the backyard and garage areas of several houses.  The location also provided a nice shade tree under which I could sit.

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The sketch was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbooks using a Pilot Prera and Platinum Carbon Black.  W&N artist watercolors and a a waterbrush were used to add color.  Before it was done I was wishing I’d brought my real brushes along.

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Uniball Signo UM-151 For Sketching

I’m a fountain pen guy but I’m a sucker for a new pointy device regardless of type.  Pete Scully, a well-known urban sketcher swears by Uniball Signo UM-151 pens and uses them regularly.  I’ve never found any of the fine tip versions in the stores around here but I finally decided to order a couple from Jet Pens.

And I’m glad I did!!  I’m a fan of Pilot’s Hitec-C3 and C4 pens as they’ve got very fine points, don’t wear down like the nylon-tip pens, and they have replacable cartridges.  Unfortunately, they’re not waterproof so I can’t use them when I want to use watercolors with my pen/ink sketches.

SignoUM151

The Uniball Signo UM-151 pens, in .28 and .38 mm sizes solve that problem as their inks are pigment-based and thus are waterproof.  I bought mine in ‘brown-black’ as I wanted a dark brown pen and haven’t been able to find a brown/waterproof fountain pen ink that makes me happy.  I should say, up front, that I don’t understand Uniball’s tip dimensions except to say that the line width is less than the size of the tip, which is fine but it’s hard for me to report the actual line width for comparison to other pens.

Mitsubishi, manufacturers of Uniball pens says that their .7mm pens produce a .4mm line.  I couldn’t find a similar description of the .28 and .38mm pens.  What I can say is that the .28mm line is significantly finer than that from a Micron 005, which is claimed to be .20mm.  In any case, it’s fine…and when hatching a small sketch, it’s just dandy…or ‘peachy’ as my dad used to say.

I’ve only had the pens a couple days so I can’t say much about long-term performance except to say that the rollerball should hold up better than the fine nylon tip pens, which I find wear down annoying fast.  As replacement cartridges cost only $1.65 from Jet Pens, ink capacity isn’t much of a problem either.

2013-07-05SignoTestHere’s my first test drive of the pen.  I used the .28mm on this tiny Rhodia pad (3×4).  The pen doesn’t skip a beat.  Stippling works better than I expected from a ball-tip pen, though if you stipple a lot, you need to roll it occasionally on a piece of scrap if the ball goes dry.  Otherwise it’s a point-and-shoot device.

I was sitting on my porch, waiting to head out for a day of sketching in the country, and I used the Pilot Signo to draw this Impatiens flower in a Strathmore Series 400 “Drawing” sketchbook.  Notice that even with the pink, there’s not bleed from the brown-black ink.  Makes me very happy.

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These pens come in a bunch of colors and after seeing a couple sketched by Pete where he used the dark green, I can’t wait to get my hands on one of those.  For myself, the .38mm is a better pen for sketching 5×8 or larger but the .28mm is a treat for details, hatching, and when you’re working small (eg – 3×5).

The best part of these pens is that they’re CHEAP!!!  From Jet Pens they’re only $2.50 and replacement cartridges only $1.65.  The bad news is that individual cartridges are only available in blue, black, red and, blue-black.  I’m hoping they make brown-black available ‘real soon.’

2013-07-07Apartment

Today I went out for an early morning walk along the river.  I sat down on a bench to watch a family of ducks and before you could say ‘fanatical sketcher’ I had my little Strathmore doodle book in hand and I was scribbling out this sketch with the Uniball UM-151-28 pen.  It’s about 3×5 in size and all I had was a small waterbrush to add color.  Given the small amount of time consumed on this quick sketch, I like the result and my new UM-151 pen.

Sketching Tiny Town

The Ursuline Convent in Quebec City was founded in 1639, which makes it the earliest learning institution for woman in North America.  It’s also seems that they owned half the old city at one point.  Ok…maybe that’s an exaggeration but they owned a lot of land and buildings and still do.  But most of the private residences and some of the other large buildings have been sold off.  The curent compound is home to the convent, a school, and it’s a popular tourist stop.

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One of the private residences still held by the Ursulines is this place.  I’m not sure how big it is but it’s got to have the smallest entrances of any on Quebec.  Its unique nature made it a great sketching subject, though gray on gray isn’t the ideal color scheme, I suppose.

The building on the left if the Ursuline library and museum.  If you get to Quebec City, be sure to visit, if only to talk to the very nice people who work there.  After we were done sketching, they let us browse through their library where we found several books used to teach drawing to students.  While I’ve yet to tour the museum, they told me that there is a section on how drawing was taught to students.  I’ve got to get back there to see that.

I did the sketch in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbook using a TWSBI Mini with Platinum Carbon Black ink.  I added some color… well, gray… with W&N artist watercolors.

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Sketching Between Rain Days

We’re still getting more rain than we should and certainly more rain than I want.  But we got a weekend that only started under rain and high winds.  We ended up with slightly damp conditions and warm temperatures.  There was this scary yellow ball in the sky.  Not sure what that was but it seemed harmless enough.

Yvan and I took advantage and we went to Artillery Park, an area in old Quebec City that has a bunch of old military buildings and fortifications.  It’s also where a munitions factory operated until 1964.  Now the large buildings are museums surrounded with park areas, cannons and high walls – a great place to sketch.  And we did.

I sketched a building called Redoubte Dauphine.  It’s an impressive structure and I set up at the base of it, sitting on the edge of a parking lot.  I sort of botched the perspective by placing a couple lines incorrectly.  As I didn’t want to restate them in their correct locations, I made the best of it and finished it with the wonky angles.  Do me a favor and squint a lot when you look at the sketch.  Maybe you won’t notice (grin).  The sketch was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbook with a Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray.

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It was very hazy and cloudy so I decided to return to add color/details, when there was some sun to provide contrast.  I packed up and went looking for Yvan.  I located him, sitting high above me on a wall.  In fact, I noticed that you can see him as a tiny orange blotch on the right of the photo above.  He was sketching something and I thought it’d be fun to do a quick sketch of him.  I did it in my Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6) with a Pilot Prera and Platinum Carbon Black.

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I climbed the hill you see in the first sketch and entered a tiny park area associated with what was once an officer’s quarters.  I liked the shape of the end of that building and so quickly sketched it.  Same small sketchbook; same pen/ink.

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2013-06-29OldBuildingSiteThe eastern edge of Artillery Park is bordered by an old rock fence.  On the other side of it there’s a grand old apartment building that’s no longer inhabited and, sadly, it’s crumbling from neglect.  It pokes its second story above the rock wall and I liked the view, of the back of the building and so I sketched it.  Same sketchbook, same pen, same fun experience.  Every sketching day is a great day.

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