I Went Sketching – Yippee!

As I look out my window I can only barely see the house across the street.  This is because we’ve got a rip-roaring blizzard going on.  This winter has been a doozy thus far.  We’ve already had 11-12 feet of snow and it’s only mid-February.

Many of us have gotten some chuckles listening to the people in Seattle and Vancouver try to deal with snowfall and I include myself among them.  Sure, they’re not used to it, aren’t equipped for it, and are even somewhat surprised by the snowfall, I suppose, but it’s fun to poke fun at them nevertheless.  I’m just glad they took some snow off our hands as we’ve got so much my snowblower is having a hard time throwing the snow to the top of the snowbanks that line my driveway.

But it wasn’t snowing on Monday and Yvan and I headed for the Quebec Federation of Hunters and Fishermen offices.  They have an amazing exhibit of taxidermy animals and it’s a delightful place to sketch.

My hand was hurting a bit, but my real problem was that I’d lost my ability to “see.”  Nothing was automatic and I struggled to see the shapes and volumes of the coyote skull I decided to draw.  I should have chosen something more simple.  I guess I should have known that “out of practice” would include all aspects of drawing, but I figured that once I trained my brain, it would stay trained.  Then again, I forget where I put my keys so…  Anyway, here’s my version of a coyote skull, which has an eye socket drawn way too small.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Pilot Metropolitan, DeAtramentis Black

I took a short break to get a drink and rub my hand a bit.  Then I sat down to draw a duck.  I felt a bit more confident by this point and I didn’t need to second guess myself so much.  We’d decided to stop at noon for lunch and so I rushed a bit to finish this one but I was happy, and a bit tired.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

We ate lunch with the idea that we would return to sketching but we didn’t.  My hand was hurting and Yvan suggested that we call it a day since it was my first day back to location sketching.  Instead, we decided to go have coffee where we talked about composition, tactics for blocking in drawings and identifying simple shapes in a scene.  We topped off the day with a stop at an art store and then I got to look over a bunch of Yvan’s art.  The day couldn’t have been more perfect.

Learning To Draw Again

I’d like to begin by thanking all of you who take the time to post your sketches on the internet.  Without them, the last year would have been miserable for me.  I haven’t been able to draw myself and your art kept me inspired and hopeful that I would, some day, be able to return to creating sketches of my own.

Those of you who have followed my blog (both of you) know that I’ve been dealing with some health issues for the past year.  I’m happy to report that I may be seeing some light at the end of this long tunnel.

I’ve been poked and prodded endlessly, CT-scanned, eco-grammed, candy-grammed and other miscellaneous-grams in an attempt to find out why my inflammation blood factors were off the charts.  This has been terribly frustrating and it didn’t solve my problems, which amounted to me having no energy, loss of appetite, loss of 25 lbs, and joints that hurt constantly.  Many days I had a hard time walking but the real problem was that my left hand wouldn’t allow me to draw.

But after they eliminated every disease known to man (the silver lining is that I’ve had the most exhaustive physical imaginable and passed all test(ssssss), I was handed to a rheumatologist, a wonderful woman who is now my hero.  We spent two hours together as I received more prodding and a lot of joint squeezing, bending and stretching.  By my estimate a gazillion questions were asked and answered.  Then it was time for a cortisone shot in my particularly bad knee and fluid was drained for analysis.  Oh…and drugs were prescribed to knock down my general inflammation.

Roughly two weeks later, that’s working.  The annoying cane I’ve been hobbling around on is starting to collect dust and my hand(s) are getting so I can think about drawing again.  I still have a hard time using my thumb in any way to hold a pen though.  I’ve been drawing endless numbers of circles and ellipses in an attempt to eliminate an almost lumpy nature to those objects as I try to find a pen I can hold so those glitches don’t occur while I draw.

I’m also dabbling with painting shapes/volumes and relying less on line to sort of skirt around these problems, though I’m horrible at it and still confess to enjoy pen driving too much to be happy with that approach.  Nevertheless, my energy has returned, I’m walking and I’m ready to fly.  Yvan and I are heading for a sketching session Monday morning and I’m quite excited about it.

I’ll leave you with this simple, poor drawing of an onion.  I did a simple, lumpy outline and then did the paint, adding some more lines when everything was dry.  It was done in my quick-sketch (ie – cheap) notebook and it was like painting on a blotter but I enjoyed the fact that shapes were being made, which is the important thing.

Yet Another Tiny Palette

I don’t know why but we urban sketchers are almost obsessed with the notion of creating tiny palettes.  I’ve made a bunch of them, though each time I’m disappointed, mostly because there’s not enough mixing area and I find them difficult to hold compared to my larger palette that has a nifty ring on the back I can shove my thumb into.

And yet, here I am again… I just can’t help myself.  When my buddy Yvan made one of “these”, I had to follow suit and I thought I’d share it with you.

Unlike the traditional Altoids box, this one is made from a case for reading glasses.  As such, it’s long and thin and I think it might fit my particular needs.  To “create” it all I did was paint the lid with white acrylic paint and stick 8 half pans into it using blue-tack.  Instant tiny palette.

I did add one more thing, or maybe two things. You can see in the bottom view that I’ve glued a couple small seed magnets to the underside.  These are very handy because I often draw on a 8.5 x 11 surface of a thin, metal-wood surface.  It helps corral things into a unit I can hold with one hand, whether I’m standing or sitting.  I can attach single-sheets to it using magnets or, using a support board rest for landscape or portrait sketchbooks.  And now, I can attach my tiny palette to it as well.

 

 

 

Doodling My Way Into Winter

My sketching over the past month has been mostly doodles done out of desperation and then only when my hands are working.  I’ve put my free time to good use, however, revisiting art books I’ve wanted to re-read.  Don’t you find that second reads of art books reveal information you didn’t get the first time through?  I sure do, particularly if I wait several months worth of sketching experience before the re-read.

Anyways, it never seems that doodles are worthy of blog posts so my posts have become fewer and farther between.  I did get out a couple times this week, though, so I’m reporting that I finally got to sketch in a more formal way, though ‘formal’ is exaggerated here.

My first stop was the 3d mask exhibit I talked about at the beginning of the month.  I went there with our sketching group and while my hands were less than happy about it, I drew one of the masks.  I confess to a certain frustration drawing these masks and I think I’ve figured out why.  I’ve been trying to turn them into a real face, when in fact they are somewhat alien because the tops of the head are removed, the eyes closed, and in general they’re just too smooth everywhere.  So, I figured I’d go with the flow on this one, producing the alien creature that it is, exaggerating it a bit with watercolor.  The mask is lit from below and excepting that it’s white rather than blue, this is pretty much what it looks like.  Kinda spooky don’t you think?

Once  a year we all get together and draw holiday cards in one form or another.  This year was no exception though I confess that I wasn’t much in a holiday mood that day.  It was a lot of fun, though, because there were a bunch of us creating art so I could see what everyone else was doing while I puttered away myself.  For this I always use Strathmore’s Watercolor Cards, which are convenient.  I never did get around to writing the obligatory Merry Christmas or Happy New Year on them.

My Lack Of Imagination

I’ve been sketching for about six years.  During all of that time I’ve been a dedicated urban sketcher.  Nearly everything I’ve drawn has been from life, mostly from my perch upon a tripod stool.  Those of us who work this way are fond of extolling the virtues of drawing from life.  If drawbacks are mentioned they generally relate to how weather and/or material limitations affect the actual drawing process.

One thing we always ignore when talking about location sketching is that there is no exercise of the imagination when you’re trying to depict some object or scene that lies before you.  We may simplify, or even modify the scene but nevertheless, the scene provides the subject of our work.

Because of this, I’ve developed very little imagination when it comes to generating my own scenes.  Yes, I can draw a dinosaur creature and maybe even a funny-faced character, but drawing a citiscape or landscape from my imagination – no way.  And while I can draw cars, statues, and airplanes when I’m looking at them, I can’t draw one from my imagination to save my soul.

My buddy Yvan has told me that I should spend time drawing from my imagination, because if I did I would look at the world differently, generating a different kind of knowledge about my world.  I know he’s right but I’ve found it difficult.

These days, however, I’m sort of stuck at home a lot and often my hands don’t function as well as I would like.  Yvan showed me a lot of the small vignettes he draws (which are amazing) to develop his imagination and I decided to give hem a try.  His approach is pretty simple:

  1. Paint a block of color(s).  Not too big (the ones here are only 3″ to 4″ wide).  Add some blotches of color (low contrast is best as it doesn’t force you in one direction).
  2. Let them dry (or not) and imagine what sort of scene can be made from the blotches of color contained within each block.

That’s all there is to it.  While the ones presented here are the first two pages of these things I’ve created, they don’t have to be landscape/citiscapes.  Yvan likes to invent candlesticks, fancy bowels, statues, or groups of people.

I’ve found this hard, mostly because I have no imagination, no “vocabulary” for making stuff up.  But Yvan is correct, I’m looking at everything differently, asking things like “what are the typical shapes of citiscapes”; “what are the features of vases that one could use to create a new type?”, and a million other similar questions.  There’s lot of fun to be had here and I’m convinced that it will help me with my “normal” drawing.

 

Sketching The Alleyways Again

The days are becoming cool and raining and between that and days when my hands won’t let me draw that coincide with the good days, I’m not getting a lot of opportunity to sketch on location.  But Yvan and I did get out and into the alleyways of old Quebec to do a bit of sketching.  This, and the smile on my face, was the result.

A Bit Of Eye Training

Training the eye to see relationships and proportions is tough business.  We tend to choose subjects based upon our current abilities and approach them with a ‘good enough’ fashion determined by limits of those abilities.  This is why everyone says that portraits are the ‘hardest’ form of drawing.  I see it rather tha portraits are the one place people worry about precision and accuracy.

For myself, I’m no different but I like to challenge myself sometimes, with the most important stages of a drawing being those early stages where I’m trying to nail down relationships and proportions.  Classical artists call this ‘blocking in.’  The best subjects for these exercises, for me, are those that are very organic as the relationships between one element and the others are not evident.

I found this sun-bleached stump while visiting the information center at Bic National Park, just south of Rimouski.  I didn’t have time to actually draw it but I snapped this photo and it served for the exercise I’ve described.

The first thing I did was use straight lines/angles to determine the outer boundaries of each of the arms of this hunk of tree.  Once this is done, double-checking the angles confirms the location of each of the arms, which will make it a lot easier to draw.  I continued a bit with the pencil, drawing cylinder-shaped blobs to represent each of the arms, mostly concerned about their angles.  Note that I didn’t worry much about what the actual outlines were and certainly none of the small details.  I increased the contrast on this graphic so you could see the lines; in practice they are very light.

With the location of all of the parts and their relative sizes, I can leave behind the cognitive functions of my brain, stop measuring, get “into the zone” and begin drawing with ink.   It wouldn’t matter whether I was drawing “loose” or “tight,” I could draw without worrying about where the parts were supposed to be.  It’s very liberating and fun.

I’m guessing here but the pencil portion took me no more than five minutes, probably less.  The ink portion was more like twenty minutes.   Could I do it faster if I’d skip all this and go ‘direct with pen’ as so many urban sketchers advocate.  Maybe, but in my experience it actually takes longer because as a ‘direct’ pen sketch progresses, I have to ‘adjust’ things to correct for small errors I’ve made along the way.  Besides, improving accuracy and precision doesn’t come from ignoring it.  Besides, it’s fun.  Here’s the result.  It’s just a stump, but it was a fun challenge.

 

 

 

Sketching At A Winery

The Artistes dans les Parcs leader, Denise Bujold arranged for us to spend a Thursday sketching at a winery on the Ile d’Orleans, not far from Quebec City.  She surprised us by using her superpowers to give us ideal weather as well.   There were sixteen of us scattered around the winery, drawing, painting or enjoying each other’s company.  It was quite a day.

I decided to draw this scene, not part of the winery but across a field from it.  I was disappointed that I didn’t get more depth into this sketch.

We all took a break for lunch, sitting at some picnic benches available for visitors to the winery.  The sun was so inviting that I wanted to lay down in the grass and fall asleep.  Ah…to be a kid again where that wouldn’t be seen as rude (grin).

Rejean had done a small vignette of a cluster of grapes and I decided I needed to do one too.  I have a tough time walking down hills right now but I found I could walk along a road that wound its way around some buildings and served as a way for tractors to get to the lower level.  Eventually I got to the head of one of the fields and found  a cluster of grapes near an end post, creating an ideal subject.  I was pretty happy with the result and the entire day.

Artistes Des Parcs Visit Domain Cataraqui

Denise Bujold is doing an amazing job of organizing events for us to attend.  While most art groups are held together by the love of a particular medium or way of working, this one is held together with smiles.  It seems everyone is working in a different medium, some carry easels, others tripod stools.  But everyone shows up with smiles on their faces and that’s all we need.

This week we assembled at Domain Cataraqui, which at one time was a huge estate.  I guess it’s still a huge estate but now it serves several purposes, most central of which is a cooking school.  For a sketcher, there is a large cluster of unique architecture and gardens that are all surrounded by forest.  Oh…and it’s quiet, one of my favorite things.

Yvan and I arrived a bit early and we chose an area to start sketching.  I decided to do a larger sketch of a view of the building complex and because I’m slower than molasses as a sketcher, it took me until lunch to complete it.

Everyone else had set up and were painting on the other end of the estate so I headed up there to take part in the smiles, some chit-chat, and maybe some lunch.  It was a gorgeous day and sitting in front of a multi-million dollar mansion just felt right.

Assembling A Scene From Nature

I’ve been reading a lot about sketching landscapes lately and one idea that pops up regularly is that of assembling a scene based upon what you see and what makes the composition work.  Moving a tree, or eliminating some is often the example given.   I have a hard time with that concept.  It makes perfect sense and I admire those who can do it, but it seems I’m a literalist at heart and so I always end up drawing what I see.

But recently I did assemble a scene from nature, quite literally.  During our trip to Rimouski we (mostly Chantal and Jodie because I  couldn’t climb around on the rocks very well) collected a whole bunch of crab parts.  The whole endeavour was done so I could draw the parts but it got a bit out of control.  In the end, we ended up with a whole bag of smelly carapaces, legs and claws.

When we got home the question was what to do with them as they really did smell.  Chantal put all the parts in a bunch of pie tins with mesh cloth over them to keep the flies away and put them on our deck.   The smell did diminish but it never went away, even after a week or so of loving care.

So one day I decided that I would pick through them, find good examples and then take photos of them so we could throw everything away.

As I started doing this the biologist in me, or maybe the Dr. Frankenstein, started sticking parts together.  Before I knew it I had a nearly complete crab sitting on the table.  I did take some photos of my prize and then sat down to draw it.  I learned that drawing a crab can make you go cross-eyed trying to follow all the leg parts but it was fun.