Taking A Coffee Break, Sketcher Style

It was sort of cold when I headed out to sketch a couple days ago.  I’d nearly froze to death the day before while sketching a small restaurant.  So, I decided that I should find some place indoors to sketch and I headed downtown.  When I got there I wandered around a bit and then went into the Second Cup, a chain of Starbucks look-alikes.

It was not very busy so I decided this was the place for me.  I got a cup of coffee and sat at a high table near the periphery of the shop.  I got out my pad of Patrick-paper (a sketchbook sent to me by Patrick, hence the name) and started sketching.  I started with the one person in the scene, drew a few lines to identify some major horizontals and then just started adding stuff.  And then I added more stuff.

2013-10-23SecondCup_72When I finished the ink work I paused to drink some of my coffee.  It was still warm.  I added the color, took a breath, and drank some more coffee.  It wasn’t very warm.  I guess I’m going to have to acquire a taste for cold coffee as I’ve certainly acquired a taste for sketching in coffee shops.

Pre-hibernation Behavior Of A Quebec Sketcher

I think this may be my last outdoor sketch of the year.  I was out this morning.  The temperature was 3-4 C and it was windy.  I did the basics of this sketch as quickly as my slow hand allowed.  It’s a tiny, old ‘casse-croute’ (typically this means they sell fries and poutine) on Dorchester street.

By the time I had the structure drawn, I was frozen so I headed to the library, which was nearby.  I’d snapped a photo of the building and used it to add details and color.  I think this marks the beginning of indoor season for me.

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6x9) sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Zeta (6×9) sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon Black

41st Worldwide Sketchcrawl – Quebec City

This is the second year that we’ve done the October worldwide sketchcrawl.  It’s a challenge for us because, by this time of year, it’s generally pretty darn cold.  Last year I learned a new French word – frissoner – which means to shiver.  So, only the intrepid among us are up for outdoor sketching in October.

This year was a bit different and our weather on Saturday was really pretty nice… for us.  You can see that we’re not wearing shorts and t-shirts,

Coatsbut Robert and Celine are merrily sketching a large building that sits high on a cliff above the Farmer’s Market, the site of our sketchcrawl.  Celine even manages to sketch while wearing these,

Gloveswhich is something I’ve never managed to do.  We made up for a lack of temperature with an abundance of laughter, talking, and sketching.  It was a great day and by my count, we had 14-15 people in attendance.  I remember, during the planning of our first sketchcrawl (June 2012), we wondered whether anyone would show up at all.  We’ve come a long way.

I did get to do some sketching and had great fun doing it but the most fun was talking with several of the newcomers to our ranks who were interested in my use of watercolor pencils (Faber-Castell Albrecht-Durer) and wondered what sketchbooks I used (Stillman & Birn).  We chatted about sketching in general, about having sketchcrawls more regularly, where to sketch during the Quebec winter, and a lot of other things.  This was a sharp contrast to my more typical loner stalking of sketching subjects in Quebec City.

Gilles Charron was one of the guys at his first sketchcrawl.  He’s been a watercolorist for a while and lamented that he should have been drawing more.  He made up for lost time, though, doing these two sketches during the event.  Aren’t they great?

Croquis 1_Gilles Charron Croquis 2_Gilles Charron

 

 

 

 

Yvan Breton and Celine Poulin organized the event and a big thank you is launched in their direction.  I don’t have a photo of Yvan at this event but his art speaks volumes about his talent.  I do have a photo of both Celine and her artistic talent.

2013-10-19-FarmersMarket-YvanSketchCeline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think I’ll skip posting my own sketches from the day as this post is filling up fast.  Maybe I’ll post them tomorrow.  For now, I leave you with a look at the art and faces of some of my friends

2013-10-19-FarmersMarket-41stSketchcrawland some of the sketches they did during our sketchcrawl.  Thanks to all the participants; you made the day very special.

2013-10-19-FarmersMarket-LucienSketch Bethann Claudette Legumes poirief Robert_piments Robert_Seminaire

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.

2013-10-10Gallerie_color

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).