Stepping Through My Sketching Process

Patrick Ng presented one of his sketches by showing us all the stages of development in a series of posts in the Facebook group, Artist Journal Workshop.  I thought that was a great idea and so I’m going to do that here.  Click on the photo to get a larger image.

On Location PhotoFirst stage occurred on a hot day, in front of the Quebec City train station.  I decided to draw a building that sits at 363 Rue St. Paul, partly because it was a great subject and partly because there was a shady spot where I could sit.  I didn’t quite get the drawing done in that first session as it still lacked the foliage, though that had been penciled in early in the process so I’d know what parts of the building would be covered by leaves.

B&W sketch

Once I finished adding the foliage and touching up a few of the details it looked like this.  I did this at home.

I decided to add shading with early morning sun as I thought it would be better than the mid-day sun I had when I did the sketch.  So, I went back to the site, plunked myself on my Walkstool and went to work.

Toned sketchI now use a small chunk of 8B Derwent Graphitone pencil, stuck in a half-pan, for my basic shading.  This has some interesting virtues.  First, I can use it just like a cake of watercolor, using a brush to pick up pigment and mix up washes of any density I need.  Second, it’s much smaller and lighter than the dilute india ink solutions I was carrying for this purpose.  AND, the important thing is that once Graphitone been exposed to water and then dries, it won’t mix with watercolors I put over it.   The end result of this stage sometimes causes me to wonder whether I need color at all.  This may be because I’m not all that versed in or experienced with watercolor (grin).

I like color, though, so I broke out my W&N watercolors and applied a moderate amount of color to the sketch.

I used a Pilot Prera fountain pen with Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink to do this sketch.  In my opinion, the techniques are made possible, or at least easier, because of the fantastic, double-sized papers of the Stillman & Birn sketchbooks I use.  I can’t say enough good things about them.   If you find these sorts of posts useful, let me know and I’ll do more of them.

Cheers — Larry

larry@larrydmarshall.com

Gardening Book For Sketchers

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for examples of OPS (other people’s sketches).  It’s how I learn.  How did they depict foliage?  How are they shading?  What colors are they using?  What are they doing to simplify complex objects?  For me, this part of the quest to be a good sketcher is a considerable chunk of the fun.

Town & Country GardeningAnd so, as I wandered a huge, ‘buy by the kilogram’ book sale yesterday, I was flipping through books on all kinds of subjects, looking for sketching examples.  It’s at such sales that I can justify paying a buck for a big book full of sketches about subjects that aren’t of particular interest to me otherwise.  And while all this page-flipping doesn’t often yield results, it’s sort of a treasure hunt for me and what young boy (I’m only in my 60s afterall), doesn’t like a treasure hunt.

And so it was, yesterday, when I came across the motherlode in the form of Town and City Gardening by Michael Miller, and more importantly, illustrated by Anne Ormerod.  the cover caught my eye immediately.  The book presents a lot of ideas for hanging gardens, gardens in very small spaces, and a lot of architectural things associated with small gardens.  And while there are photos, the book is heavily populated with gorgeous sketches of plants, gardens, windows, doors, and planters.  These are split about 50:50 between black and white and color sketches but all are magnificently done in ink, with watercolor washes when done in color.  I paid about a buck for my copy.  From what I can tell it’s out of print but the link above does take you to a copy for sale via Abebooks, for a buck.

Esthetics Vs Cheap: What We Are Missing

One of the things I’ve noticed since since I became a sketcher is that most man-made objects have short lifespans, and getting shorter in our disposable economy.  We really need to do something about that.

But architecture is the big exception, largely because buildings built before the 50s and 60s were built to last a loooooong time.  Construction was brick, with thick walls and roofs covered with metal.  And oh do they last…and last.  There are hundreds of buildings in Quebec City that were built in the late 19th Century and hundreds more built during the first quarter of the 20th.  Many remain have not been torn down to make room for the square box buildings we build today for one simple reason.  These old buildings were built to be as attractive as they were functional.  As I compare the beauty of these old buildings and compare them to the more modern parts of our city, it’s not hard to conclude that we’re sacrificing a lot in the name of build it cheap.

The Fire House Example

As in every city, in Quebec City things occasionally catch on fire.  And like other cities, we have a fire department and their facilities scattered around the city.  And if you look at the fire engines that arrived at fires in the early part of the 20th Century they looked like this.  Very cool and people now visit museums to see them.

But today modern fire equipment are marvels of engineering, far more capable at quenching the flames.  Far more expensive too but we spend the money because they do a better job.  As a fire hydrant sketcher, I know there are some fire engine sketches in my future but it’s the fire houses that have caught my eye.  I’ve seen several here that can only be described with a single word – KEWL!

And so this past weekend I sat on the sidewalk across the street from this majestic building and sketched it.  It was done in a Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha sketchbook, using a Pilot Prera (fine) pen filled with Noodler’s Lexington Gray.  Aren’t I right?  Isn’t it KEWL!  Why don’t we build buildings like this anymore?

 

 

The Day It Rained On My Parade

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Into each life some rain must fall – Henry Longfellow

I wonder if Longfellow was thinking of plein air sketching when he wrote that famous line.  Probably not.  But as spring came to Quebec City it came in couplets, a a day of sunshine followed by a cold, rainy day.  And I was poised with sketchbook, wanting to hit the streets to do some sketching.

And so it was when I woke to a ‘to do’ list that said, ‘go sketching’, but the day greeted me with cloudy skies and cool temps.  I’d made that appointment with myself and I wasn’t going to let a few clouds prevent it, no matter how ominous they looked.  And so I headed out, hopping a bus for the downtown area.

Though it was a bit cool, I was having a great sketching session as I sat on my Walk Stool, capturing one of the many interesting buildings within my habitat.  As the Urban Sketchers say…show the world one sketch at a time.  I’d gotten the sketch to the point of adding details when it started to rain.  In atypical fashion, I’d actually anticipated the need for an umbrella and I got it out, opened it, and decided that I should take the proverbial ‘location shot’ before I left for the day.

Aside from the fact that the umbrella was one of those small things that are too small to truly protect humans my size, I bumped against another problem; I didn’t have enough hands.  If evolution was so smart, we’d have three.  I only have two.

I needed to hold the sketchbook up so the photo would include both the sketch and the actual building and, of course, I needed to hold the camera.  I could put the umbrella down but then the sketch would get wet.  And so it was that I was trying to hold umbrella AND camera in one hand, the sketchbook in the other.

I had looked relaxed and confident while I was sketching.  Now I looked like some sort of contortionist.  Trying to hold camera and umbrella while looking through the viewfinder, while holding the sketchbook out in front of me was, well, trying.  And then there was the problem of having a free finger to push the button.  I gave up on trying to look through the camera.  I shot several quick photos, hoping that one of them actually included sketch and building.

Somewhere along the line my oldsheimers caused me to forget this sketch and a couple weeks has gone by.  I ‘discovered’ it as I was flipping through my sketchbook and I decided it was overdue for completion.  This is the result.  Hope you like it.  Have you ever been caught in the rain while sketching?

Like all of my sketches, this one was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) sketchbook.  I used a Lamy Al-Star and Platinum Carbon Black ink to finish it.  I may have used the same pen when I started the sketch too but oldsheimers strikes again.  Color is Winsor & Newton Artist Watercolor.

Stillman & Birn “Beta” Sketchbook

When I got interested in sketching I found it pretty easy to find good watercolors, brushes, pencils, and pens.  What was harder was finding sketchbooks that served my purposes as a pen/ink/watercolor sketcher.  I spent a lot of money and now own a bunch of sketchbooks with 2-3 sketches done in each before I rejected them.

Then a couple artists started talking about Stillman & Birn sketchbooks.  I bought one.  Then another.  Then another.  And I’ve never looked back.  They are simply the best I’ve found.  Mostly I’ve been using sketchbooks, both bound and spiral, from their Alpha series, which have nice, smooth, 100lb paper.  I’ve also tried the Epsilon series and while a bit smoother, I don’t really see much difference between the two but I’m a rookie so what do I know.

And over my few months of using them, lots of other sketchers have started using them too.  We’ve all reported to Stillman & Birn that their Alpha (white) and Gamma (ivory) sketchbooks can handle a lot more water/washes than their advertising suggests.  Many of us are as surprised as S&B are about this, as 100lb paper is about the minimum for doing washes in my experience.  But there’s something about the sizing of the paper that causes it to act ‘heavier’ than it is when accepting watercolor.

It’s not that you can’t buy heavier paper from Stillman & Birn.  They have a Beta (white) and Delta (ivory) series that contain 180lb paper.  But Stillman & Birn advertise these series as being “rough” paper and that’s the last thing one wants if you’re going to be pushing an ink pen over the surface.  So I’ve avoided them…until now.

I’m a curious kind of guy so I’ve now got 6×8 spiral sketchbooks from the Beta and Delta series and…shazaam…the paper isn’t rough at all.  In fact, it’s smoother than some cold-press watercolor papers I’ve tried.  These papers do have a bit more tooth than my Alphas but I got quite excited when I received them because the paper is very heavy, smooth, and inviting.

A quick test demonstrated that my fountain pens like these papers.  I tried a Kaweco Al-Sport, Lamy Safari, Noodler’s Ahab, Pilot Prera, and Hero calligraphy pens.  I tried Platinum Carbon Black, Noodler’s Lexington Gray, and Noodler’s Bernanke Black ink.  All the lines were clean and crisp.  It might be my imagination but I feel that watercolor washes are easier to do with these papers too but I can present no data other than ‘seems like’ to support that view.

And so this morning I got up, looked outside and saw the sun.  I headed out with my new Beta sketchbook in search of something to sketch.  This lasted about 15 minutes.  It was sunny, but ugh; it was cold… cold… cold.  Temps were only a couple degrees below freezing but the winds were howling and so being the sissy that I am, I hustled myself back home.

Not to be defeated by Mother Nature, I went through my photo library and came up with a photo of a sign I’ve been wanting to sketch.  It hangs high over an intersection in our downtown area and I love the flourescent pink lighting around its periphery.  I started sketching, not fully realizing that I had no clue how to draw flourescent lighting.

I’m going to really like this Beta sketchbook.  At 6×8 it’s a good size for portable sketching, though I’ve become quite attached to my 10×7 Alpha sketchbooks.  Here’s the end result.  I did this sketch with a Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray ink.

A Sign Of Spring In Quebec

The Internet has affected our views of the world and for the past month or so I’ve ‘experienced’ spring in many locations on our fair planet as people talk about flowers popping out of the ground, birds chirping, etc.  In Quebec spring is a bit different.  It’s a time when temperatures fluctuate a lot.  One day we’ll be in shirt-sleeves and the next we’re back in our heavy coats.  Spring is when the snow melts, though, and we’re left with a bunch of brown, matted grass and no green on the trees.  When the trees finally flush, it seems they do it overnight and summer begins.

So, while we “know” it’s spring, the birds haven’t shown up yet and there aren’t those flower indicators of it.  Instead, our indicators are big blue trucks.  All winter the city’s efforts to keep us moving involves regular gravel/dirt treatments of our roads and sidewalks.  Spring snow melt leaves a coating of the stuff everywhere and so the big blue trucks come along, with nice guys in orange coats who wash the sidewalks with power hoses.  later, other big blue trucks (actually streetsweepers) come along and suck up the gravel from the streets.

A couple days ago they came and while they weren’t in one place long enough to sketch, I took a couple photos and did this quick, for me, sketch of the activity.  We like it clean in Quebec City.

Stillman & Birn 5.5×8.5 Alpha; Lamy All Star w/Platinum Carbon Black ink; W&N artist watercolors

 

The Russians Are Coming…

When I came across this house in Quebec City, I had to sketch it.  I wonder if the Russian Czar who must be living there had a pool table under that dome or a ballistic missle.  It didn’t matter; it was just plain KEWL!

I set up across the street and went to work, sketching the bones in pencil and then doing the ink sketch.  I’m pretty slow as a sketcher and so this took me more than an hour but the time passed without notice.  When it came time for color, the waterbrush came out and… I realized that my watercolors were sitting on my desk at home.  So I shot this photo, packed up, and headed home.

Once at home I vowed to make up a second palette of watercolors so that I could keep it in my sketching satchel.  I had a W&N Cotman Sketcher palette that I picked up on sale and so I popped out the Cotman watercolors and filled the pans with Winsor & Newton artist-quality watercolors.  I’m still experimenting with color palettes and mostly working with little knowledge.  This is what I’m using right now, though.

 

I decided to go light on the color for this sketch; it just seemed to call for that approach, with all the emphasis on the building.  I hope you like it.

It was done in my Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha sketchbook, using a Hero 578 Calligraphy pen and Platinum Carbon Black ink.

Cool Spring Sketching Isn’t So Cool: It’s Cold!

I’m so excited that it’s finally spring in Quebec City.  I got interested in sketching last fall, just before it started getting cold here, and so I’ve been trying to get out sketching as often as I can.  I may be premature in that because Quebec spring is still pretty cool, and often windy.

A few days ago when I’d made the decision to go sketching.  The temps were just above freezing and it was quite breezy.  But I went anyway.  I headed downtown, looking for something to sketch, my face and ears screaming “Are you nuts?” to my stubborn sketcher brain, as the wind defoliated my skin.

I set up next to a wall that blocked most of the wind. It was across the street from a dental clinic that seemed worthy of sketching.

I start these sketches with pencil and  I have two goals.  I want to get the perspective right and I want to locate all the foreground thingies that determine where the background lines start and stop.  I don’t worry about drawing the details at this point, but I’m slow enough as a newbie sketcher that this takes me longer than it does for most sketchers.  I’d been sitting for about 45 minutes and I was beginning to empathize with popsicles and dream of fireplaces.  I called it a day, packed up, and went home.  This was the state of the sketch at that point.

Later, in the warmth of my home, I inked (Hero Calligraphy pen w/Platinum Carbon Black ink) the sketch, added some details, and used Winsor & Newton Artist watercolors to give it some color.  Hope you like it.

By the way, the more I use it, the more I’m enjoying my Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha.  I’ve been using Alpha’s for a while now and love them and spiral format is really convenient for outdoor sketching…even when it’s cold.

I went out this morning to sketch some more.  I headed to the marina, expecting that some of the winterized sailboats would be back in the water.  It was spring, afterall.  Turned out that, once again, I had been overly-optimistic as the marina is still covered by ice.  Spring is here, but not really.

 

 

Adventures Of An Urban Sketcher

Thursday morning I decided to walk south and visit an industrial area near a railroad yard in Quebec City.  I’m something of a train nut and I thought maybe I could sketch some trains.

I was walking to the freight yard when I happened upon this scene.  I liked the yellow wall, juxtapositioned next to the brown train car and the harsh shadow between them, so I decided to sketch it.

I set up to the left of where this photo was taken, on a sidewalk, with the street behind me.  My WalkStool was actually straddling the railroad track.  Those railroad tracks crossed the street and went somewhere.  I didn’t pay much attention.   I remember chuckling to myself that at least this subject wouldn’t drive away like a car I was sketching earlier in the week.

I was having a really nice time as the sun felt good, it was quiet, and the sketching was going well.  I’m a really slow sketcher so I’d been there more than an hour and I was intently adding color to my ink sketch.

I was so concentrated on the work that I didn’t even hear it… until a guy walked up to me and his shadow crossed my paper.  “Qu’est-ce que tu fait, Monsieur?” (What are you doing, Mister?)   I looked up to see a guy in overalls and a baseball cap staring down at me.  And then I saw IT.  It was an EMD SW-1500 switch engine, idling no more than ten feet from where I was sitting – on the railroad tracks.

I told him I was sketching and showed him my sketch.  I stood up as I did and he told I’d have to move.  As I was packing up he walked over to the derail (that yellow thing clamped to the track), disengaged it, and motioned to the engineer to move forward.

By then I was taking photos of the engine.  I did mention that I’m a railroad geek didn’t I?  Once they’d engaged the boxcar, the guy dropped off the engine, walked back to me, and asked if I could show the engineer my sketch.  I was both amazed, excited, and nervous all at once.  The sketch you see below bought me access to the cab of that engine, which for a railroad geek is a really big deal.  And then they hauled my boxcar away.  And that, my friends is what I call a great day of sketching.

Here’s the sketch.  I still have to add the white letters on the boxcar and I’ll probably do that with a colored pencil.  This sketch was done in my Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (10×7), using a Lamy Safari XF and Platinum Carbon Black ink.  Color is W&N artist watercolors.  Has anything like this happened to you while you were sketching?

 

Sketching Quebec City, One Building At A Time

A couple things have happened recently that are causing me to rethink what I post on this blog.  The first was an email I got asking me why I wasn’t posting more of my sketches here.  The other thing is that Facebook is continuing to march out its horrible Timeline format, which makes posting sketches on Facebook very difficult unless you’re happy with postage-stamp size postings.

I started this blog to promote my mystery novels and I’ll continue to use it for that.  But, because I love fountain pens and because I’m learning to sketch, I’ve started doing posts about those topics as well.  As the email suggested, though, I have not posted most of my sketches here.  That’s going to change and while I’m not a prolific as a lot of sketchers, I hope I’ll be posting sketches regularly.  I’d like to hear any comments regarding my art, or what you’d like me to talk about as we head through spring and into summer sketching season.

To start that off, here are a couple of my latest building sketches.   Both were done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook.  I’ve been using these sketchbooks for a while and I love them.  These sketches were done in my new 10×7 (landscape format) spiral-bound sketchbook, though I generally prefer hardbound journals and S&B make some of the best.  But for outdoor sketching I really like the spiral-bound approach as I can fold it back, plunk it on my lap and draw.

Chez Madame Charlotte’s Restaurant

This has got to be one of the cutest restaurants in Quebec City.  Everytime I walk by it I think of Gary Larson cartoons.  The stairway of this sketch was the real challenge and having done one, if I’m made king I will ban them from my kingdom.

Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha; Lamy Safari w/Platinum Carbon Black; W&N watercolors

Les Colocs Restaurant

This is another restaurant in Limoilu, one of the older parts of Quebec City.  You can’t help but notice its colorful facade and this is the second time I’ve sketched it.  I was trying out a new pen, a Hero Calligraphy pen.  Works great but I used Noodler’s Black ink which, in spite of its ‘bulletproof’ label, is not waterproof enough to apply watercolor washes on top of it.

Stillman & Birn 10×7 Alpha; Hero Calligraphy pen w/Noodler’s Black; W&N watercolors

I hope you enjoy these and those I’ll be posting in the future.  Are you as excited as I am that the snow is gone and we can get out sketching again?