Quebec City Street Scenes

Quebec City, particularly the older parts of the city, has many street scenes that are worthy of a sketcher’s time.  Often the streets are narrow and the buildings are connected to one another.

These form great urban scenes and the only thing that limits a sketcher is time and the place to sit while doing the sketch.  Time, scene and place to sit came together and I sketched this autumn scene.

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6x9); Pilot Prera w/Platinum Carbon Black ink

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9); Pilot Prera w/Platinum Carbon Black ink

A Simple Act Of Kindness

Here in North America our society is becoming more and more coarse.  The rhetoric of our politicians has become downright rude, we all walk around with headphones one, barely acknowledging one and other and, frankly, too many of us are too afraid of too many things.  So it’s hard to continue to believe an axiom that makes life bearable – that people are good.

2013-09-30PatEnvelopeBut then something happens and things snap back into perspective.  That happened to me when I went to my mailbox and pulled this from the box.

It was addressed to me with a flair that one rarely sees.  It came from Singapore.  Singapore???  Who did I know in Singapore?  I immediately thought of the Urban Sketchers of Singapore but I’ve never met any of them.  Who could be sending me something?

And so I opened it in the hopes of gaining some insights.  Indeed, the contents were sketcher-oriented.  There was a nice toned-paper sketchbook, a leatherette cover for that sketchbook, two Uniball Signo UM-120 pens, and a couple refills for those pens.  WOW!  The motherlode.  Being old I don’t think as quickly as I once did and I was still baffled about who might have sent these items.  And then I found the little card, from Patrick Ng.

Patrick is a great guy, who went out of his way to obtain a couple Hero pens for me that I couldn’t have purchased without his help.  And we ‘chat’ on Facebook, where we are ‘friends.’  He had been shopping for materials and remembered me, remembered discussions we’d had about the toned-paper sketchbooks made by a friend of his, and he bought me one, and a cover for it so I could fill the sketchbook, get another one and replace it, reusing the cover.  He’d sent a couple of the pens he uses regularly because he knew that Uniball don’t import them to the US.  People are still good, and Patrick is one of the best.
2013-10-03AndrewBook (1)The first thing I did was to test  bunch of pens on the paper, which must be 200lb tan-color paper.  It’s not heavily sized but it does take watercolors quick nicely.  You notice the lack of sizing when you try to do larger washes.  But being able to use the paper as a mid-tone and working on both sides towards dark (pen) and lights (colored pencil) is lots of fun.

2013-10-04LamppostBirdThe first full sketch I did was this one, done in Parc Brebeuf, a park not far from my house.  The ring-billed gulls like to sit on lamp posts and this one sat around while I drew him…or her.

I decided that since Patrick had been so nice to send me a sketchbook, the least I could do was walk a mile in his shoes, in a sketching sense.  He does a lot of sketches inside restaurants and coffee shops.  Sometimes he does them on toned-brown paper, sometimes not.  They are always wonderful sketches.

So, I took one of my Hero 578 ‘asian calligraphy’ pens (tip is bent upward), my new sketchbook, and headed to a mall.  It was morning and not very busy, which suited me fine.

I actually sketched this while standing up, just outside the restaurant, resting the sketchbook on the wall in the foreground of the sketch.   Me, standing, looking in at the restraurant was likely to be disconcerting so after I’d done a bit of the sketch I walked to the three women featured in it and showed them what I was doing.

Normally I would not do such a thing as typically this causes people to start posing.  But in this case, it was necessary.  The sketch was lots of fun and very much in honor of Patrick Ng.  Thanks, Patrick.  You really made my day, week, month.

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Fall Is Here; Just Say No To Snow!

Fall officially came to Quebec a couple weeks ago.  Many of the trees, and certainly Mr Weathermaker, didn’t get the memo.  We’ve had very warm temperatures for a last couple weeks and the trees are very confused as daylength tells them to drop their leaves but the temps are saying “not yet.”

But, slowly and as surely as politicians will screw things up, winter is approaching.  For me, a street sketcher, it’s a time of transition.  It’s a time when I start figuring out what/where I’m going to sketch once it gets too cold outside to do what I love – sketch on the streets.

To that end I’m thinking about museums, have convinced myself that I should try, again, to sketch from photos, and that I should use Google Maps “pegman” to sketch in exotic places while snow blankets my world.  We’ll see.

toned paper; Pilot Prera and Prismacolor white pencil

toned paper; Pilot Prera and Prismacolor white pencil

In the meantime I’ve been doing some sketching.  I received a handmade tan-paper sketchbook from my buddy Pat Ng in Singapore and did this sketch to sort of break it in.  The gulls love to sit on the lamp posts around here so I had plenty of source material for this sketch.

This sketch was done in celebration of the show the trees put on for us every year.  Fairly simple, I combined a Uniball UM-120 black pen (.5) with a Uniball UM-151 brown-black (.38) pen and did it in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6) sketchbook.  The fence lets me call it an ‘urban sketch’ 🙂

2013-10-07Fall2013-10-07QuickHouseI spent Monday night looking at a bunch of sketches done by Liz Steel, a very talented architect/sketcher.  She talks about how she works very quickly and why.  The next day I was walking down a street and saw this little house.  I decided to try out Liz’s philosophy/approach and while I didn’t produce anything near the quality of her sketches, once I buried the ‘ooooo…that’s not right’ and ‘oops…left that out’ I found the results interesting and I’ll probably do some more like this.  Took less than 10 minutes, including the time to get out my watercolor kit and waterbrush.  It was done in my ‘el cheapo’ 3×5 notebook and my Uniball UM-120 (.5) pen.

Sketching, no matter how it’s done, is fun and after two years of doing it, I can’t imagine a day without it in my life.

 

Another Trip To Ile D’Orleans – Pt 1

I finally got out sketching and it was a fantastic day. Unseasonably warm and not much wind so I headed back to Ile d’Orleans where I sketched and froze the last time I was on the island. This steeple is attached to a church that’s on the eastern end of the island, in the town of St. Jean.  Its bright orange roof must serve as a visible beacon for the cargo ships that come from the Atlantic and are making their way towards Quebec City.

The church is across the street from a place that sells great brioche and coffee.  Last time I was there they’d lost electricity because of high winds so there was no coffee but it’s a regular stop for me when I get out to the island.

Moleskine watercolor (3x5), Pilot G-TEC-C3 pen

Moleskine watercolor (3×5), Pilot G-TEC-C3 pen

Once I sketched the steeple, I walked across the street to get my coffee and danish and this time it was closed because, it seems, it is closed on Mondays. Disappointment didn’t last too long, though.  They have a lot of chairs in a very pleasant garden area so I took one and set it up so that I could sketch one of the unique lamp posts in St. Jean.

2013-09-30IleD'OrleansLamppost

Moleskine watercolor (3×5), Pilot G-TEC-C3 pen

Have you noticed that some sketches are more ‘relaxed’ than others as you do them? That’s certainly the case for me. In this case, I’d just finished staring hard at all the detail in the steeple and mostly just wanted to sit.  Because of the situation, I was sitting on a gorgeous ‘throne’ in the form of a sculpted, cast-iron chair, with grass beneath my feet. The temperature was perfect, the sun was shining, and I was sitting in the shade.  If I’d gotten any more relaxed I would have fallen asleep.  The worst day sketching is a good day but some are better than others.

Location Sketching On Ile d’Orleans

“In 1814 we took a little trip,
along with Colonel Jackson
down the mighty Mississip.
 
We took a little bacon,
and we took a little beans,
and we fought the bloody British
in a town called New Orleans.”

These lyrics, sung long ago by Johnny Horton, tell of the final battle of the War of 1812 where Americans defeated a British invasion force.  The song was a big hit when I was a kid and every time I head to Quebec’s Ile d’Orleans that song rattles around in my brain.  Truth is, the French had their own battle against a British invasion and Wolfe, the leader of that invasion force, nearly died when his ship ran aground just off the coast of the island, and within cannon distance of the French forces.

But war is not the topic of today’s post.  Rather, it is about a trip I took recently to Ile d’Orleans to sketch.  I use ‘trip’ loosely as it takes all of fifteen minutes to get there as you can see Ile d’Orleans from Quebec City and vice versa.  Going to the mall takes longer.

Ile d’Orleans is a big island in the St. Lawrence River, just as it widens from its narrowest point, at Quebec City, on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.  There are six municipalities on the island, though I have a hard time determining where one begins and another ends.  What I know is that the island is gorgeous and I love my time there.  A lot of vegetable and fruit growing goes on, and it’s a very popular tourist location.

I’ve sketched on the island but I’ve never gone there alone, with the singular goal of sketching.  This day, I was on a mission.  The sun was out, I had sketchbooks a plenty, and I’d arranged to have our car for the day.  I arrived on the island about 8:45 and drove to the backside of the island to a pier that juts out into the St. Lawrence.  I discovered it when I was with my buddy Nicolas and we were like a couple kids, chasing the Queen Elizabeth II as she passed along the southern coast of the island on her approach to Quebec City.

2013-09-18IleDOrleans1

Moleskine watercolor (3×5), Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black

I walked out onto the pier, set up my stool and began sketching.  You know what?  Sun doesn’t help much when there’s a 20-30km/h wind blowing across a large body of water and its hyper-cooled air is cutting you in half.  I was COLD!!!  At one point I went back and sat in the car for a while to warm up but, finally I finished the sketch.  I was a bit too much in a hurry, do you blame me, and ended up with some paint blooms in the foliage because my previous wash wasn’t yet dry, but them’s the breaks.

I was really cold when I finished and so headed for a place I knew that serves wonderful brioche and good, hot coffee.  Unfortunately, the winds had blown out their electricity – no coffee.  So, I bought a brioche and sat in the car, with the heater running, to warm up.

2013-09-18IleDOrleans2

Stillman & Birn Zeta (5×8), Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black

Across the street from the café is a church and a cemetery.  I keep telling myself that I should draw more in cemeteries as I love the shapes of the grave stones and their helter-skelter orientations, probably caused by the annual freezing and thawing of the ground.  I found a view I liked, went back to the car to get my stuff and I was soon sitting in the cemetery sketching.  This was a little better as there was a stone wall around the area that broke some of the wind.  I was only semi-frozen when I finished this one.

I was getting ready to leave.  Actually I was turning around in the church parking lot when my eye caught a “Privé” sign and a lamp post.  I love to have such things in my sketches and so I decided to sketch this scene.  Once again, however, I would be fully-exposed to that darn wind coming off the St. Lawrence.  I am old but even I can learn new tricks.  I positioned the car so I could sketch while sitting inside.  About halfway through I was wishing I had a hacksaw to eliminate the steering wheel but it worked out ok once I got the hang of it.

2013-09-18IleDOrleans3_sm

Stillman & Birn Zeta (5×8), Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black

There’s so much to sketch on the island that I could go there every day and not get bored.   In another couple weeks the trees should be putting on their annual ‘fall colors’ light show and I’m going back ‘real soon.’

It’s My Birthday!!!

Have you noticed that as you get older the time between your birthdays gets shorter?  Have you also noticed that you’re not as thrilled by them as you once were?  Maybe it’s just me.  I still act like a kid but I’m old and getting older doesn’t impress me much.

2-year-oldBut I just had a birthday that I liked a lot.  I’m now a two-year-old sketcher.  That’s right, near the end of August 2011, I discovered Danny Gregory’s books and his notion that doing art wasn’t about talent and that it wasn’t about creating great art.

He had the audacity to suggest that anyone could enjoy doing art because the process of doing art, not the end product, is what’s important.   As one who has always tried to be creative, but also one who was told he had no ‘talent’ for art, this came as a revelation to me.  It was a life-changing event.

And so I started drawing cubes.  I’m an analytical type, an ex-scientist, so I felt that if I was going to draw, I needed to start with boxes.  In hindsight, I’m glad I did.  I drew a gazillion of them.  I’d draw one and then try to draw another rotated a bit in one direction of the other from the original.  It seemed I was buying a new watercolor book every other day, determined that I’d learn to paint.

But I learned something very quickly.  Most watercolor books go like this:

1) Start with a sketch…
2) add a wash…..
3) do something else…
4) finish up with details.

And, to me, this is akin to saying “Want to decorate your own house?  Ok, first do all the carpentry and plumbing” but it is the standard way that watercolor books are presented.  If you can’t draw, they’re all pretty useless in my opinion.

So I decided that I would spend the first year “learning to draw”, whatever that meant to me at the time.  I’m still trying to learn to draw and now figure I’m not going to master it anytime soon.  But I do believe that by emphasizing drawing over painting I did myself a great service.  For the past couple years I’ve used watercolors but mostly like crayons, filling in areas in my pen and ink sketches as a 5-year old does in their coloring books.

I wish I could share with you some of my early attempts at drawing, but I cannot.  All my early sketching was done on photocopy paper and ended up in the trash can.  I saw no need to keep any of it, at least until I mentioned this to more seasoned sketchers in an Internet forum.  There seemed to be a collective gasp, followed by “Don’t do that.  You’ll want to look back some day and evaluate your progress.”  They were right and that day was today.  I guess that advice came in October 2011 as from then on, everything is in sketchbooks, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
2011_10-ChezCharlotte_sm
Here was my first attempt at a ‘real’ sketch.  I did it from a photo as in October of 2011 I ‘knew’ I’d be eaten alive by passers-by if I dared sketch on location.  At the time I was pretty happy with it.  I guess I still am given that only a month prior I was struggling to draw cubes (grin).

MySketchbooksBut, since then I’ve filled a sketchbook or three.  I’ve become quite passionate about urban sketching.   I carry sketchbooks with me wherever I go and I sketch constantly, or so it seems.  I can’t seem to get enough.   While I’ve got a lot to learn about art in general, and watercolors in particular, I’m sure having a lot of fun and that’s what art is supposed to be all about.  Just ask Danny Gregory.

2013-08-27House

Stillman & Birn Zeta: A Pen Sketcher’s Dream

S&B_ZetaBack in November of 2011 I bought my first Stillman & Birn sketchbook.  It was a 5×8, hardcover Alpha-series book.  I wrote about the Alpha Series here.   In that blog post I said that I liked it very much and I gave several reasons why I felt it outperformed the other sketchbooks I’d tried. I also ran out and bought several more.  But as I’d only had it for a short time I added the caveat that “It’s probably premature to draw conclusions that will stick.”

Well, nearly two years and ten S&B sketchbooks in use or filled, I think I can be a bit more definitive…but with another caveat.  Stillman & Birn just keeps getting better and better so who knows what ‘best’ will look like in the future.

I find the colors are brighter on Zeta paper, probably because they aren't absorbed into the paper as much.  Makes lifting easier as well.

I find the colors are brighter on Zeta paper, probably because they aren’t absorbed into the paper as much. Makes lifting easier as well.

As I filled sketchbooks, I tried the other Stillman & Birn papers.  For the pen & ink work I do, the Epsilon sketchbooks are wonderful to draw on.  It took me a while to get used to how the smoother paper accepts watercolor as they stay wet longer and sit on the surface more, which is neither good or bad but different from the more absorbent Alpha.  The best equivalency I know is to the differences between cold-press and hot-press watercolor papers. Both of these papers are 100lb papers that, while they outperform any papers of this weight I’ve ever used, they still have a tendency to curl somewhat when lots of water are applied.  You can see a bit of shadowing if you use both sides of the paper.

And then I tried Beta, S&B’s 180lb paper.  This is surfaced very much like a cold-press paper and provides a fantastic surface for watercolors but not as nice as Epsilon for pen use.   By the end of the summer of 2012 I wrote a summary post on these different sketchbooks.  I was completely hooked on Stillman & Birn papers and their amazing double-stitched bindings which are second to none.  But at the time I thought “They need thick “Epsilon” paper.

Notice how flat S&B sketchbooks lay once they've been broken in.

Notice how flat S&B Zeta sketchbooks lay once they’ve been broken in.

And this is the thing about Stillman & Birn.  If you dream it, they magically know you were dreaming and they make it.  The Zeta sketchbooks were release a few months ago in response to my dream.  I’m betting others were dreaming the same thing.

I use several S&B sketchbooks (different sizes and papers) simultaneously and when the Zeta series was released, I immediately started using one.  It quickly became a favorite for my kind of sketching (pen/ink and wash).  It’s a merging of best of Beta and Epsilon into one paper as it’s 180lb Epsilon paper.  I’m working in my second Zeta sketchbook and it’s hard for me to see any reason to use any other, if the size I want is available with this paper.

There lies the rub as I still use Alpha in 4×6 and 10×7 formats.  I will likely buy a 7×10 spiral bound Zeta as a substitute for my 10×7 Alphas but, so far, S&B haven’t produced a truly small sketchbook (thin, 3×5) – my current dream.  I hope that when they do it will contain Zeta paper (grin).

Do You Experiment With Sketching Styles?

In the two years that I’ve been sketching I’ve actually developed a ‘style’, which surprises me somewhat as it seemed not long ago I was wondering if I would ever be able to draw anything, let alone have a ‘style.’

I like my style, which is more ‘illustrative’ than artistic.  Some might even claim it to be cartoonish.  I sometimes call it that.  In any case, when I sit down to draw something, the resultant sketch reflects that style.

My style has two drawbacks.  The first is that those who don’t speak sketcher try to fit it into ‘fine art’ and, well, it just doesn’t.  Some day ‘finished’ sketching will be acknowledged by the art community at large but so far, it’s tough slogging.   The other drawback to my style is that it’s not ‘fast’.  My sketches take longer than those done by people using looser, less detailed approaches.  This is not bad or good but sometimes it limits my ability to quickly capture a scene.

So, I sometimes experiment with quicker, looser ways of sketching.  Of course I do a fair amount of quick-sketching of people but here I’m talking about sketching things.  Here are a few examples of those attempts.

2013-07-30QuickBuildingsI did this little sketch of a piece of the Quebec City skyline, experimenting not only with very quick (only a couple minutes) sketch but also with a washable red ink.  I kinda-sorta liked the result.  It’s no more than two inches square.

Using the same pen/ink combo I decided to see if I could grab enough detail from a very complex hotel facade in 3-4 minutes to make me happy.  Can’t say this pleased me much but maybe…with lots of practice… naw…not working for me 🙂

2013-07-29LeCapitole

2013-08-27QuickSketch

Here’s another experiment.  It’s only about 2×2 and my thoughts were to do a quick, small sketch that could be part of a journal page.  I really would like to start adding annotations to some of my sketches and to that end I sketched this tiny house in about five minutes, including the watercolor.

I was sitting in a park in ‘lower town’ of Quebec City and there’s a row of buildings that look down on the park, trees filling the area in between.  I decided to quick-sketch it.  Probably took me 10-15 minutes, which for some is not ‘quick’ but if I were to do this with my ‘style’ it would take at least four times that long.

I sort of like the results.  The trees aren’t sufficiently developed for my taste and I hate restated lines on buildings (buildings aren’t supposed to look like they’re vibrating).  This one was done on two pages of a 3×5 notebook so it’s a bit larger than the others.

2013-08-16DeStRochParc

I’ll continue experimenting with different styles and approaches as I think I learn something every time I do it.  Who knows what my ‘style’ will be in another year.  Do you experiment with styles?

Sketching at Chute Montmorency

CMontmorencyChute Montmorency is a large waterfall just east of Quebec City.  It’s a major tourist attraction, a mini-Niagara Falls I suppose.  It has all the tourist amenities.  Large facility at the base of the falls greets tourists and there’s a large parking lot to accommodate a constant parade of vehicles.

There’s also a tram and a smiling attendant with their hand out.  You can pay the price or you can climb a veritable labyrinth of stairs up to the top of the falls.  We did neither.

Locals, wanting to get to the top take a metro bus that drops them near the top and next to a hotel that sits at the tram terminus.  There’s a wonderful boardwalk that tourists walk along to the falls and it provides spectacular views of the falls as well as the St. Lawrence River.  We took the bus.

I met my sketching buddy, Claudette, on the bus and we walked the short trail down to the west end of a large pedestrian bridge that runs right across the top of the falls.  The views are pretty spectacular from there.  So, what do a couple of urban sketchers do?  We set up at the end of the bridge and drew the bridge.  We’ll draw the trees, beautiful canyon, and the falls themselves some other day.  I guess it truly is a mindset as both of us did this without much thought.

I decided to work in a small format as I’ve been doing a series of smaller sketches.  I got out my little Moleskine watercolor sketchbook and started drawing.  Claudette did likewise with her 5×8 Strathmore 467-series sketchbook.  These are beautiful, brown-covered watercolor sketchbooks, though they are in landscape mode which is not idea in my view.

2013-08-24ClaudetteSketchingCIt seemed that we both finished our linework about the same time as I noticed that she was getting out her watercolors as I reached for mine.  She had hers. I did not.  I’d left my watercolor kit sitting on my desk.

While disappointing, it allowed me to stand up and move around, giving my old knees a stretch.  Then I sat down and did a quick, small sketch of Claudette working on her sketch.  Obviously, I added color to my sketches when I got home.

2013-08-24ChuteMontmorencyBridgeCClaudette composed an interesting view of the bridge, sort of zooming in on just the entrance area.  I decided to capture more of the entirety of the scene.  I like hers better.  I always do.

ClaudetteBridge

We wandered up Avenue Royale which is a very old street lined with older, though often completely renovated houses.  These are majestic houses with lots of what my dad used to call ‘gingerbread’ trim, large front doors and porch areas.

We only found a few dozen things we wanted to sketch but it was time for lunch.  Feeling recharged by good food and conversation, we returned to the falls area and I sketched this little snack kiosk, again in my 3×5 watercolor book.  Then, we hopped on the bus and came home.  Paraphrasing the Terminator…”we’ll be back.”

2013-08-24ChuteMontmorencyKioskC

Taxi Guys Need A Place Too!

Firemen have their firehouse.  Policemen have donut shops. Sketchers have libraries, coffee shops, and street corners.  And taxi cab drivers need a place too.  In Quebec it looks like this:

2013-08-15TaxiStandCAt least the one not far from my house looks like this.  I’m not exactly sure what they do in there but they have a washing machine outside.  I suspect it’s something of an oasis that lets the drivers get out of the car once in a while.  The bright yellow building and the orange background wall conspired to insist that I draw them, and so I did.  Stillman & Birn Zeta (5×8) using a Uniball Signo UM151 pen.  It’s hard for a fountain pen guy to admit it, but I love these pens and their waterproof ink.