A Little Piece Of Nature

My wife has been way too nice to me as I’ve hobbled through life for the past few weeks.  I feel guilty about the burden I’ve placed upon her, but I’m grateful that she’s been there for me.  She’s very special.

A couple days ago she came home with a wad of nature in her hand.  She put it on the table and said, “I thought you might like to draw this.”  She is a sly one.  She knows I’ve been fighting motivation and energy levels but she also knows that when she gives me something I feel a compulsion to draw it.  She also knew that it would only remain draw-worthy for a couple days.

And so, I drew it.  I decided to skip pen hatching, one of my favorite things, and rely upon watercolor for shading and once again I demonstrated how little understanding of watercolor.  I should stick with pen (grin).

An Update From The Walking Dead

Hi guys, I thought I should keep the blog rolling with a brief update on my do-nothing life.  I’ve mentioned my leg problem and associated fatigue and my fight against indifference towards doing much of anything.

I’d linked these two things together in my mind, but I’m beginning to wonder.  My leg is no longer the diameter of a telephone pole and my knee is now improving, thanks to physio treatments and time.  But my constant feelings of fatigue, sour stomach and a desire to sleep all the time remain and I don’t think it is related to the sorry state of daytime TV.

The fact that I can walk around the house without pain is good but it’s this other problem that is the most sinister.  Now that I’m convinced that these problems aren’t because of my leg, maybe the health care system can help me figure out what’s really going on.

Anyways, I haven’t been doing much sketching.  I try, I really do.  It’s just that my attention span between naps is short.  Here’s a typical page from a Stillman & Birn Alpha 9×6 that I’ve been working in though.  I chose this one because it represents the sorts of things I’ve been doing.

Not your typical urban sketches, for sure.  I don’t think I’ve done a sketch in the last few weeks that has taken more than a few minutes.  The one on the right represents a series of experiments I’ve been doing with gouache.  Specifically, I’ve been drawing heads and people directly with gouache (from internet photos) and then adding some ink on top.  I find this a fun way to draw people but I have no idea how I could operationalize it on the street.  The gouache dries quickly but people move too much to allow even gouache to dry before I add the ink.

The cow is, well, just a cow.  I saw a picture of a hyper-realistic painting of this cow and I was struck by the asymmetry of its ears.  I assume it reflects how the cow had its ears rotated when its image was captured but to me it was humorous so I quickly drew it.

Hopefully I can bounce back from whatever ails me and that it happens soon.  I hope all of you are enjoying Inktober.  I’m enjoying all the sketches being posted.

Men Never Know Their Limitations

Clint Eastwood is famous for saying “A man’s gotta know his limitations” but any woman will tell you that men never do.  I am one of those men and, sadly, sometimes I make a fool of myself because of it.  What men are pretty good at doing, however, is hiding the results or so we think, but sometimes it’s cathartic to expose the underbelly and today’s the day.  I’ll start with a story and end with really bad sketches.  I hope you can get a chuckle or two from it.

Tuesday morning I went for a physio treatment.  Right now, going anywhere is exhausting and physio visits even more so.  When I left there all I wanted to do was lie down but instead I went home, grabbed a sandwich, and then headed off to the second meeting of our still life group.  Arriving at the parking lot I realized that I had a “long walk” ahead of me.  It must have been a couple hundred feet to the door and then up a flight of stairs.  With my current hobbled gait, it only took me 10 minutes (grin).

When I got to the room I headed directly to a chair in the corner of the room and flopped into it as though I’d just completed the Boston Marathon.  I sat, looking across the room as everyone else was busy getting out art supplies, organizing their workspaces, and preparing to draw a large flower arrangement.  I just stared across the room.

Then it occurred to me that I was supposed to draw so I got out sketchbook and pen.  I couldn’t really see the flowers from where I was sitting but the thought of moving was unappealing so I started drawing people.  My sketch barely looks like people and my ability to “see like an artist” was lacking that day.  The result I share in the name of humor, not art.

I don’t know how long this took me but I’d guess 10-15 minutes.  It seemed like hours.  When I finished I closed my book, closed my eyes, and started reflecting on what nonsense it was that I was there.  Though we’re slow on the uptake, even we men ‘get it’ sometimes.

But I was there to draw and so I didn’t succumb to rational thought.  Instead, I decided to draw a purse that was sitting on one of the tables.  Again, the sketchbook came out, the pen started scribbling, and this was created.  Another 10 minutes that felt like a couple hours.

At this point I knew the session was near its end so I closed my book and put my pen away.  I looked at my watch.  I’d been there 25 minutes and there was 1 1/2 hours to go.  Not for me.  A man’s gotta know his limitations.  I went home.

Still Life – Urban Sketcher Style

When my knee problem started to limit my walking, I started thinking of alternative ways to feed my penchant for moving pointy devices across paper.  One alternative was to sign up for one of several ateliers offered here by La Collectif, here in Quebec.  These aren’t instructional and mostly about drawing nude models and portraits.  I’m not much interested in that sort of thing but they did have one atelier called Nature Morte (Still Life).

I decided that drawing vegetables and wine bottles would be a lot more fun than sitting on my couch so I signed up.  There are twelve of us in the atelier, which is organized by Celine and Robert Poiré, two of my favorite people in the Collectif so I know it will be fun.  This first week I sort of had to grit my teeth to muddle along because the pain made it hard to concentrate but we had fun nevertheless.  Heck, we were sketching, we couldn’t avoid having fun if we tried.

Here’s my sketch from the session.  I’m not sure that my pen and ink, cartoon style is the best for drawing vegetables and maybe I’ll take some pencils with me next week.

After a short break there was still a few minutes left in the session and others were still finishing up their drawings so I decided to do a quick experiment.  I got a piece of Bristol from my bag and gave myself 2-minutes to capture the same scene I’d just drawn.  I’ll let you assess how I did, but I had a lot of fun doing it.  With the remaining minutes I scribbled out some poor depictions of some of the participants.  Can’t wait for next week.

Temporary Loss Of An Urban Sketching Tool

Have you ever lost pens, paints, brushes, etc. while out urban sketching.  I have.  Several years ago I lost my entire paint kit somewhere between sketching site and home and that loss was traumatic.  The palette was inexpensive, the case was a favorite, and that kit contained several Escoda sable travel brushes.  I nearly cried.  But all of it was replaceable and my sketching regime hardly skipped a beat.

I’m dealing with another loss, however, and I while I hope it’s temporary, it’s much harder to overcome.  I’ve lost my ability to walk more than across the room.  It started with my ankle and then my knee.  Right now the leg between the two is the size of a telephone pole and I’m spending a lot of time with doctors.

If I were a “true” urban sketcher I suppose I’d be sharing lots of sketches of medical machinery but I’m not that kind of urban sketcher, I suppose.  Besides, the pain and stress have been distracting.  I won’t bore you with details but I’ve been diagnosed and I’ve just started some physiotherapy yesterday that sounds encouraging.  The ramifications for this blog is that because I can’t wander the streets of Quebec City, I can’t draw the streets of Quebec City so the nature of my sketches will probably change, at least in the short term.  Irony of ironies, I’ve waited all summer for decent weather and we’re finally getting a string of beautiful days.  Such is my luck sometimes.

The upside is that this is a good opportunity to do some experimentation and maybe I can even convince myself that I can draw from a photograph and enjoy it.  For now, I leave you with a sketch I did after hobbling along a beach on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River last week.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

St. Charles River Sketching Exposition

I’ve mentioned La Collectif before.  They are a great group of folks who mostly draw portraits and life drawing.  But in recent years they’ve also started holding outdoor sketching events.  These events have gained momentum since Daniel Chagnon took on the job of planning these events.

This year, he scheduled a series of events along the St. Charles River with the goal of having an exposition of those works later in the year.  Sadly, several of them got rained out but persistence paid off and a bunch of sketches were done.  That exposition happened last week at the Maison Dorion-Coulomb, the headquarters for the Parc linéaire de la Rivière-Saint-Charles, the group that promotes activities in the 32km long park through which the river flows.

The exhibition runs from Sep 5th through the 17th but the vernissage, where the artists were present, was held last Saturday.  We were all supposed to come and sketch and generally enjoy the day.

I confess that I’ve been a bit antisocial lately because my knee is providing me with a steady dose of pain that puts me in a bad mood generally.  I even thought about not going, but I did and I’m glad I did.

I don’t have much in the way of sketches to show you.  I sat on the porch and drew the sign in front of the house.  By then, most of the group were circled around a willing model and they were drawing his portrait.

The closest I got to that exercise (my least favorite subject) was to draw one of the sketchers, who was slumped down in her chair, perfectly relaxed and doing her thing.

As always, when I’m around sketchers, I spent more time talking than I should have if sketching was the goal, but sometimes it isn’t.

 

Fresh Air On Ile d’Orleans

This time of year the temperatures cool (most of our days don’t get above 20C) and day length is shorter.  We become aware that soon we’ll be cooped up in our houses except for when we have to go out to shovel snow.

And so we take advantage of any good weather day and play outdoors.  For Chantal and I that generally means a couple trips to Ile d’Orleans, a large island near Quebec City which is largely inhabited by farmers and cows.  Specifically, head to a cafe on the south side of the island where we can eat brioche, drink good coffee, and breath clean air as we look out over the St. Lawrence River.

And that’s what we did last weekend.  Coffee and brioche were fantastic as always and, just as ‘as always’, after we’d sat for a while we decided to drive around the island.  We headed east and ended up in St. Francois, one of six small towns on the island.  The highlight there is a little candy store, though on this trip we avoided it.  Instead we parked in a parking lot next to the church, sat on a bench, and drew what was in front of us.  This is what it looked like.

We drove on, stopped at a park on the east end of the island.  There’s a very tall tower here that, if you climb to the top, provides a fantastic view eastward along the St. Lawrence.  We didn’t climb it because, right now, my right knee and ankle aren’t being very cooperative.  Instead, we got back in the car and headed for a place with the name Maison des nos Aieux.  There is a large cathedral in front of this place but the “maison” refers to a large house that sits on a bunch of land that’s been turned into a park and flower garden.  The “aieux” refers to the fact that the place is to honor the original inhabitants of the island and there’s a large monument with their names on it.  We like to stop there because it’s so peaceful to just sit on one of the many benches and breathe some more clean air.  I’ve sketches several things here but today I got fascinated by a simple water spigot, which suited the short time frame we were there.  Sometimes simple is just right and this was one of those cases.  A fitting end to a great day.

Sketching With A Brush

A few weeks ago I spent some time with Marc Taro Holmes and we talked a lot about sketching directly with brush, skipping pointy devices completely and jumping directly to a fuzzy stick.  I even tried it that day and only moderately failed at it (grin).

Those small experiments told me several things.  The first was that I had little control over a paint brush.  After some analysis I think the problem is that I’m trying to draw with it like a pen, at too low an angle, and I lose control over line width.  I also learned that I had no feel for paint thickness and when drawing you can’t rely upon thin washes to get the job done.

So I went away intrigued but also a little frustrated.  I also felt challenged to gain better control over my watercolors, something I’ve been wanting to do anyway.  I’ve spent some time mixing, drawing lines, experimenting with brush angles, etc. and it’s been a fun adventure.  That’s a good thing because I’ve got to do a lot more of it before I’ll be able to draw directly with paint.

I was out for a walk, though, and decided to give the method a try with one of my favorite steeples in downtown Quebec City.  Accomplished artists won’t think much of this as it lacks crispness and precision.  But I was pleased with this simple sketch as it suggests I’m making progress.  I have to confess, however, that I doubt this will become my way of working for the simple reason that I love drawing with my pens and don’t want to give it up.  It is a wonderful way of getting me closer to watercolors and forcing me to stop viewing them like crayons.

USK Montreal Sketchcrawl

Sometimes timing is perfect and we were moving our daughter to Montreal on the same weekend as the USK Montreal sketchcrawl at the Maison des Éclusiers.  So, between the back and forth between Ottawa and Montreal, the up/down elevators with countless boxes, and exciting activities like unboxing, cleaning and hanging drapes, I got to go to the event.

The venue was great.  During the introduction Jane Hannah provided a long list of places and things to sketch in the area and then we all dispersed, like a bunch of young kids, excited to find the “best” spot.  Turned out, the head count revealed 60 participants.

The Maison des Éclusiers, or as others call it the Marché des Éclusiers is a place along the harbor where boats enter the Lachine Canal (an éclusier is a guy who manages the locks on the canal).  Where they go I do not know as I was busy meeting people, sketching, and generally just wandering around, gathering information for future trips to the area.  The place is set up as a tourist/local eatery/relax area, complete with restaurants, coffee house, and lots of benches and grassy areas.

I chose to draw a large house (castle?) from one end of it, mostly because there was a nice picnic bench in the shade that afforded a good view.  In hindsight, I don’t feel I ever completed this sketch as I just sort of quit near the bottom of it.  I guess I got bored or wanted to talk to some more people.

From there I just started wandering around.  I wanted to meet some of the sketchers and see what they were up to.  Lots of talent in this group and, because I hope to be returning regularly, I wanted to start establishing some relationships, though I struggle with trying to remember everyone’s name.  Eventually I sat down with Diane Gauthier and her friend Lyse (sp?).  I’d met Diane when I was in Montreal to meet Koosje Koene of Sketchbook Skool, who was visiting.  It was almost time for lunch and they let me share their picnic bench.

I decided I wanted to draw the crane on the other side of the river.  It was a goofy subject, if only because it was so far away and it didn’t provide a nice scene.  Undaunted, I decided to draw a street lamp in the foreground to improve things a bit.  I was only partially successful but here are the results.

We chatted for a while, I ate sloppy tacos, but by then it was time for me to leave.  There were still things to do back at the apartment so I had to leave before the group meeting at the end of the sketchcrawl.  Nevertheless, it was a fantastic day and, to quote Arnold, “I’ll be back!”

Last Trip To Ottawa For A While

We made our final trip to Ottawa for a while.  Our daughter just graduated from University of Ottawa and we moved her to Montreal where she’s entering law school at McGill.  I gotta tell ya, I’m too old to be moving from school to school.  Been there, done that, even have souvenir t-shirts.

But since we were there, it seemed only appropriate that I should do some sketching.  The first chance came when we agreed to meet our daughter in Rideau River Park.  I don’t know if that’s what it’s really called but it runs along the Rideau River and Chantal and I had parked our butts on a bench while we waited, so its Rideau River park to me.

I got out a Stillman & Birn 6×6 Beta spiral book and just started quick-sketching everything and anything.  No rhyme or reason to it, which is fun sometimes.  Find a white space on the paper and fill it – easy peasy.  Here’s a couple of the pages I did.

I drew stuff; I drew people, and I even drew some of the birds on the river.  But then my daughter showed up and there were other things to do.  We hadn’t seen her in a while.

A couple days later, Chantal and I went down to the Parliament area and sat on a picnic bench in the shade.  I’m showing this next sketch to make a point to those who feel “I’m not good enough” to sketch around other people.  I was scribbling this teeny, tiny sketch (3×4) in the tiny sketchbook I mentioned in a previous blog post.  I’ve been having fun doing these really tiny sketches but they’re really crude and mostly just warm up sketches. Even that gives them too much credential.

Anyways, a really nice lady from Italy asked if she could sit because she was waiting to take the Parliament tour.  Chantal started talking with her, she saw my sketch and got genuinely excited about it.  She took a photo of it to show to her friends.  My point is, people are amazed that anyone can draw anything.  You don’t have to be good to sketch in public.  You just have to sketch in public for people to think you’re good (grin).

I started drawing this next sketch because we were sitting right near the corner of a building called East Block on the Parliament grounds and we  were on a hill, affording an interesting view where I wasn’t having to look up a lot to see the top of the building.

While I was working, a Chinese family from Manitoba came to sit.  They were waiting for a tour too.  Their son, a young teenager was excited to see someone drawing and showed us a couple of the sketches he’d done.  He wanted to be an animator and was making a good start at it.  They watched as I did this sketch and I confess that half a dozen people asking questions was a bit distracting, but Chantal fielded many of them so we sort of formed a temporary clan as I sketched and they waited for their tour.

Chantal and I were both getting hungry so we headed off to forage.  Once sustained we decided to go sit in the center of the busiest intersection in Ottawa.  Well, sorta.  There is a triangular piece of land near Parliament with a lot of traffic passing on all sides.  This place is filled with statues, including a memorial to Canadian military actions complete with honor guard.

I drew the Laura Secord statue, the famous candy lady.  Some defend her statue status with stories of her running for kilometers to warn the British of an impending attack by Americans during the war of 1812 but I know its the chain of chocolate stores that brought her fame.  It just had to be, though most deny she had anything to do with the candy business.

When I finished that sketch I was getting pretty tired but I quickly draw this part of Chateau Laurier, a posh hotel that’s nearby.  All sorts of errors in this one but it was a fitting end to the sketching day.  When I was done we headed off to meet our daughter for dinner.