The Trials Of Creating An Urban Sketch

Many artists never do their art on location.  They’re happy sitting in a studio, laying out drawings, tracing the layout onto their watercolor paper, and then painting from a photo, or some such approach.  For me, sketching is all about the chase.  I have to go somewhere.  It might be just down the street or even into my backyard but I’ve got to actually ‘discover’ my subject.

There are compromises in this approach.  Anyone who does it knows them.  Time, weather, interruptions and sitting on a tripod stool balancing your sketchbook are among them.   Some times are better than others, however, and I’d like to share a couple “oops” sketches with you.

The first is a train engine.  I’ve wanted to sketch this small switch engine for a long time.  It’s tied to our large grainery and is responsible for moving the grain cars around.  I saw an opportunity to draw it and sat down to draw.  It was going pretty well until…well…it drove away.  I could follow its tracks (pun intended) and did, which allowed me to complete, sort of, the engine but the mood was broken.  I became disinterested in completing the sketch by including some entourage behind and in front of it.  So here it is, as is.

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Last week we were supposed to meet on the Plains of Abraham for a group session.  Only three of us showed up because it was raining.  We ended up huddled under the overhang of a building with only a single subject, the realty business across the street. So we drew it.  It was cold and I had a hard time keeping my mind on drawing and I worked fast – too fast.  Sometimes urban sketching isn’t what it’s cracked up to be 🙂

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Alpha, Platinum 3776

With urban sketching you sometimes win and sometimes lose when it comes to the end product.  When it comes to the fun, however, it’s always more fun than sitting in a studio.

Editor’s note:  I’m getting behind in my posting.  I apologize for that and hope to get a bunch of sketches posted in the upcoming week. 

Sketching Ottawa Statues

There are a lot of “old dead guy” statues in Ottawa and while interesting, I was looking for something different when I wandered around evaluating  statues for sketching.  I found two that I liked a lot.  Hope you approve of my choices.

This statue sits in a small triangle of dirt/grass with cars whizzing by on all three sides of it.  It’s near the National Art Gallery and while I’ve been there several times, I’ve never even noticed it because of its location.  But heck, there it was and there was a large tree under which I could sit while I sketched it.  Like the streets surrounding it, the statue is a 3-sided affair, though you can only see two sides of it in my sketch.  It’s Haida, I think and quite beautiful.

 

2016-06-23haidastatue

Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

I was walking from Parliament towards Confederation Park and as I passed the post office on Spark Street I noticed a couple of large lions protecting the doors.  In truth, they themselves were caged by large fencing put up to protect people like me from construction going on around the facade of the building.  This made it hard to find a place where I could sit to draw.  I walked around the building and found there are actually half a dozen of these guys standing around in the sun.  They’re enlarged heads make them all the more majestic and I had to draw one.  I found a place where I can climb up on some large concrete blocks, set up my stool and draw.  I only fell off once.

2016-06-24Lion

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

New Tuesday Museum Sketchers Group???

This winter it has become a habit for five or six of us to meet at the museum for a sketching session on Thursday mornings.  I really look forward to it.  I go on other days as well but it’s fun to meet and talk with some fellow sketchers.

Field Notes (3x5), Pilot Prera F, Noodlers Polar Brown

Field Notes (3×5), Pilot Prera F, Noodlers Polar Brown

Claudette suggested that we meet on Tuesday this week as well, and while some of the ‘regulars’ couldn’t come on Tuesday, she managed to get a couple sketchers I don’t see often to show up so there were seven of us sketching this morning.  Why is it so exciting for sketchers to gather together only to ignore one another for extended periods of time?  Don’t know myself but it sure is fun.

I started the day with a little five-minute (maybe?) sketch to try out the yellow Field Notes book that comes with the blue and red books I’ve reported on recently.  It’s a small wooden statue and I guess the yellow notebook passes the suitability test.  I’ll probably do more in this book, though I prefer the red and blue books.

After wandering around a bit I headed to the new nanotechnology exhibit to draw a Mayan 3-tube flute.  It’s made of clay and I haven’t a clue why it’s part of the nanotechnology exhibit.  Maybe I should have read the plaque.

I’d filled my Falcon with Noodler’s Lexington Gray which I haven’t used in quite a while.  I’d forgotten how much its “water-resistant” nature doesn’t work on papers with lots of sizing.  I applied some color with watercolor pencils and a waterbrush and everything acquired a gray overcast from the ink.  Back to DeAtramentis Document Black for me.

Stillman & Birn Beta (9x12), Pilot Falcon, Noodler's Lexington Gray

Stillman & Birn Beta (9×12), Pilot Falcon, Noodler’s Lexington Gray

Museum Sketching Fatigue

As the internet brings me sketches of cherry blossoms, crocuses popping out of the ground, and various pronouncements of spring, we’re bracing for a foot of snow tonight.  Spring will come to Quebec but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to live long enough to see it.

We were back at the museum again, a place I’m really tiring of this year.  In the past the exhibits have been very interesting and full of variety but the main exhibit this winter has been Egyptian Magic and, well, there are only so many times one can sketch another stone statue of a mummy or the favorite Egyptian god, Bes.  To make matters worse the exhibit is very dark.  You can’t even see many of the display items it’s so dark and after a while it becomes downright depressing.

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8x10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8×10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Yvan and I sketched this guy because he was outside the exhibit and there was decent light.  It’s not a real artifact, however, as you can buy one at the museum store 🙂

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10) softcover, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

After that I decided to go to the Australian aboriginal exhibit.  It’s mostly tapestries and such but I found these guys fun.  Meet Mimih, who is something of a jokester god.  They’re tall (8-feet or so), thin and they hide in the cracks between the rocks in Arnhem land.  It took forever to put all those dots on him with a Uniball white pen but at least there was light in the room.

The snow is starting.  Maybe I should trade in my sketchbook for a snowboard (grin).

They Say It’s Spring

They say that this is the first day of spring.  It must be true but from where I stand, it doesn’t seem like it.  It’s currently -15C outside.  It looks like mother nature is going to tease us with a warm up this week, though, and we may actually get above freezing so there is hope.

During our Thursday sketchers gathering at the museum last week, I got in the mood to challenge my abilities to draw stuff and I chose subjects that weren’t all that photogenic but that I thought might be difficult for my brain to get my hand to move in the right direction.

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & BIrn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

I started with this headrest.  I saw it as a challenge because it was both handmade from wood and also centuries old.  Thus, in addition to having odd, curved surfaces, it was also somewhat asymmetric and the top was a bit askew.  It was a fun subject.

There’s a new exhibit all about nanotechnology and they’re got a series of microscopes, showing their development history.  I chose this early, somewhat simple microscope as an ellipse/alignment challenge.  It worked out ok but I really should have drawn it larger and taken more time with it.  Baby steps.

Stillman & Birn Delta (8x10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Delta (8×10), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

 

Those Egyptians Really Liked Bes

Here’s a couple small  vessels (shot glasses?), each different depictions of Bes, the dwarf god.  They’re part of the Egypt exhibition at our Museé de la Civilisation.  Maybe these were intended to ward off evil spirits from their spirits.  I don’t think the top squares on the green one were intended to look like a hat but they sure do, making it quite funny.

2016-03-10EgyptThese were drawn in an 8×10 Stillman & Birn softcover Alphas series book.  I’m just starting to use this size book but I think I’m really going to like it.  Bigger than the typical 6×9 but much easier to scan than a 9×12.  The softcovers are also so much lighter than hardcovers that it actually weighs the same as a 6×9 hardcover.

Sketching My Pet Fish

Winter persists.  Attempting to maintain a stiff upper lip, this urban sketcher watches TV, reads art books and longs for warmer days.  Yesterday, I was watching a spring training baseball game, an indication that I won’t have to wait much longer.  I grabbed my small S&B softcover Alpha sketchbook (4×6) and looked around for something to draw.

I decided to draw my pet fish, Oscar.  He’s not a real fish; he’s made of plaster.  That means less to feed but he doesn’t wag his tail as much as live fish do.  Nevertheless, he’s great at posing for a sketcher.  Handsome little guy, don’tcha think?

(4x6) Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776, Abrecht-Durer watercolor pencils

(4×6) Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776, Abrecht-Durer watercolor pencils

Cancelled Concert – McDonalds Fun

This little guy was munching on a hamburger and fries. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4x6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

This little guy was munching on a hamburger and fries. Stillman & Birn soft-
Alpha (4×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

Yvan and I were going to sketch at a musical event in downtown Quebec City on Saturday morning but a blizzard was in progress and it was hard to get around town.  Schools and offices were closed and even the buses were having a hard time.

As I trudged through snow on rue St. Jean I couldn’t help but think about how silly it was for someone, someone I resembled, to be expending this much effort to get somewhere to sketch.  It was ‘free coffee’ week at McDonalds and I met Yvan there.  We got coffee and looked out the window at the storm as we drank it.

Rather than be completely defeated, we both got out our small sketchbooks and did some quick sketches.

This plow was sitting down the street from McDonalds. The view from our second-story window was a bit odd but it made for a fun quick sketch. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4x6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

This plow was sitting down the street from McDonalds. The view from our second-story window was a bit odd but it made for a fun quick sketch. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

Yvan's last name is Breton and this sign was hanging about half a block up the street. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4x6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

Yvan’s last name is Breton and this sign was hanging about half a block up the street. Stillman & Birn soft- Alpha (4×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon ink

In many ways the storm and cancelled event could have soured the day.  But we had some great conversations about art, did a bit of sketching and, like most sketching days, it was a good day.  I’ll stop here as otherwise I’d have to start talking about the hours I spent the rest of the day clearing snow.

 

Kids, Kids, Kids…Kids And Me In Egypt

Yvan and I agreed to go to the museum Tuesday morning.  Both of us knew that it was spring break for the kids of Quebec but neither of us knew that this particular Tuesday was also “free” day.  When I arrived there were hundreds of people in the lobby.  So many, in fact, that I didn’t even wait to check my coat because the line was too long.  I just headed upstairs to the Egypt exhibit.

Realizing that the place would be crowded, I found a place where I had the side of a glass case at my back and a clear view of a statue and set up to sketch.  I spent the next hour or so in that one place, sketching one statue.

But the sketching was the least important activity; I talked to kids.  I love kids when I’m sketching.  It’s hard to concentrate on drawing and my sketches sometimes suffer, but I still love them.  They’re so inquisitive and I never have to listen to them tell me that they wish they had the talent to draw or that they’d love to draw but they just don’t have the time.  Kids are the opposite of adults.  For them, drawing is KOOL.  They do it too.  They’ll tell you what they like to draw.  They’ll tell you that they like your drawing.  They ask about my pen.  A couple asked how long I’d been working on the sketch.   But mostly they just stood around watching, at least until their parents came land hauled them away.  Many of them dragged their parents over to see my drawing.

And on this day there were kids everywhere.  I’ve never seen so many people at the museum.  There were at least half a dozen kids around me at all times and I spent more time chatting than drawing.  It was a lot of fun.  As I packed up to leave I got to see what was really going on behind me.  The exhibit room looked like a rock concert.  People everywhere and as Yvan and I left we found there were lines of people waiting to enter the exhibit.  It was extraordinary, but I had to wonder if I could have found a place to sit if I’d wanted to draw something else.  I’ll never know as we left with smiles on our faces.  Here’s the sketch I did during “free” day.

Stillman & Birn Beta (9x12), Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776

Stillman & Birn Beta (9×12), Platinum Carbon Black, Platinum 3776, watercolor pencils

Collectif Rendevous At The Museum Of Civilisation

The Collectif group in Quebec City held its annual rendevous at Quebec’s Musée de la civilisation last Saturday.  Unfortunately, a bunch of the regulars were playing snowbirds in one for or another and so turnout was down from previous years.  Nevertheless, we had a great time.

I started sketching in the Egypt exhibit, where I drew this pharoah mask.  I used Faber-Castell Albrecht-Durer watercolor pencils for color.  It’s hard to deal with color in that exhibit because it’s so dark so it’s hard to know what you’ve got until you’re done and eating lunch (grin).

Pharoah mask, Egypt

Fabriano Artistico CP, DeAtramentis Document Black, Pilot Falcon

I took a short break by wandering around a bit and when I saw this large Australian aboriginal totem I had to translate it to paper.  Pretty simple drawing.  Lots of fun.  It’s good to be back out sketching.

Australian totem

Fabriano Artistico CP, DeAtramentis Document Black, Pilot Metropolitan