Quick-Sketching On The Bounding Main

Sailing, sailing,
Over the bounding main,
For many a stormy wind shall blow
Before Jack comes home again!

I remember this bit of a song from when I was a kid.  I’m not sure why.  I’m less sure how.  But it bounces between my ears every time I get a chance to get on a boat.

Platinum Carbon pen, Platinum Carbon Black ink

Platinum Carbon pen, Platinum Carbon Black ink

I was out walking and ended up near where the ferry docks on the Quebec side of the St. Lawrence River.  I was looking across the river at the new ferry complex on the other side and decided to take a boat ride, but the two ferries had just started swapping places so I’d have to wait a bit.  I sat down and got out my Field Notes book and did this quick sketch of the top of the old post office building.  More a scribble than a sketch but, after all, it was done in my ‘scribbler’ so that was appropriate.

Sailor Profit fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black ink

Sailor Profit fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black ink

I boarded the ferry and wandered around its decks, letting the fresh almost sea breeze blow across my face.  I’m lucky to live in a place where I can be “on the bounding main” with nothing more than a swipe of my bus pass over a card reader.

I’d like to talk about taking a three-hour tour like Gilligan but the truth of the matter is that it takes only about 10-minutes to get to the other side.  I did get a couple quick-sketches done.

Sailor Profit fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black ink

Sailor Profit fude pen, De Atramentis Document Black ink

Once on the other side I wandered around, looking at the on-going construction, trying to figure out what the overall plan was for this new place.  I decided that I wasn’t smart enough to understand and took a wait and see attitude.  I went inside.

Once you get through the turnstile to get on the ferry heading north, you climb stairs to a large room with a wall of glass.  What a great view of the Quebec City skyline there is from there.  I’m going to have to go back when I’m in the mood to do larger sketches but on this day, I was in quick-sketch mode.  I got out a larger, but cheap sketchbook (6×9) and did a 5-minute pencil scribble of the skyline.  It’s not much but it will motivate me to get back there to do something better and provide a good excuse for another boat ride.

2015-07-17Ferry4A bell went off and like a bunch of cows we were all herded through large doors and onto the ferry.  I felt inclined to say ‘moo’, though I don’t think that translates well into French.

2015-07-17Ferry5I watched a small tugboat chug by as the ferry was pulling away from the quay and once we started crossing I was amused by a couple sailboats trying to change course and/or stop so the ferry could proceed.  Once that show was over, I got out my Field Notes book again and did a couple more people sketches, this time using my Platinum Carbon pen.  It was a great day to be sailing on the bounding main.  What is a bounding main anyways?


What Do You Draw In Your Scribbler?

Lately I’ve been talking a lot about the small notebooks I use for quick-sketching and sharing my quest for a notebook that I find useful for that purpose.  For the past couple years I’ve used small notebooks I bought at the dollar store but ever since Marc Taro Holmes talked about using a Moleskine cahier (the staple-bound books) I’ve been looking for something in that format, after finding the Moleskine notebooks to bleed/ghost more than I like.

All that talk – that quest – caused a couple people to ask, “Why do you use the small book rather than one of your larger books?”  That seemed like a good question so I thought I’d talk about that a bit.

Mostly, it’s about time and convenience.  When I grab one of my Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, it’s generally because I’m going to spend at least half an hour on a drawing and often the result has taken me an hour or more.  It’s very rare for me to spend more than 15 minutes on a sketch in my small books and most of the sketches I do in it take 5 minutes or less.  At times I’ll try to sketch moving people and spend no more than a minute per sketch.  They’re also small and I can stuff them in a pocket so they’re available at a moment’s notice.

But it’s more than that.  I treat these smaller books very casually.  I’ll do ink and pen tests in them.  I’ll write notes, make lists, or someone’s phone number or web address.  While watching baseball I’ll fill pages with partial sketches of baseball players.  I’ll practice drawing ellipses, spheres, etc.  I’ll draw random shapes and then hatch-shade them.  In short these little books are a training ground for me.  I’ve always thought it odd that people seem to believe that you learn to draw by only doing complete drawings, as though one learns to play the piano by playing Rachmaninoff concertos.

More important than all that, though, is that I use them continually.  If there’s truth to having to draw a million lines before starting to create decent art, I’m playing catch-up.  I draw whenever I have a few minutes, no matter where I am.  Because of this, I’ve found there’s a middle ground between finished drawings and quick scribbles and I use these books for the middle ground as well.

If I’ve got a few minutes to draw I’ll find something small and draw it, at least as much to hone my hand-eye coordination as anything else, but mostly I do it cuz it’s fun.  I thought I’d show you a few  examples, though I did show a few in recent reviews of the small notebooks.  The tan sketches are in my “mustache” book and the white ones are in the new Field Notes Workman’s Companion notebook.

Some chairs and a guy.

Some chairs and a guy.

A crowd watching a baseball game, sketched while I was watching a baseball game.

A crowd watching a baseball game, sketched while I was watching a baseball game.

This guy walked by my house, very slowly, very deliberately.  Odd gait.

This guy walked by my house, very slowly, very deliberately. Odd gait but I probably exaggerated it.

Drawn from TV

Drawn from TV

While sitting on the back porch

While sitting on the back porch

Recently I reported on an Urban Sketchers event at the Stewart Galleries in Montreal.  I presented a sketch that I did there.  But I do other, little sketches, at these events.  Here are a couple done at that event.


Archway onto a patio at Stewart Galleries. Drawn while Yvan and I ate lunch (pencil)






Tiny pencil vignettes done while at the Stewart Galleries

Tiny pencil vignettes done while at the Stewart Galleries







As you can see, these sketches reflect a variety of subjects and have been drawn with different pointy devices.  Each, I hope, improved my ability to capture the world around me.  Mostly, though, they represent precious minutes of fun.




Hanging Out At Bassin Louise

Bassin Louise is the the largest marina for private boats in Quebec City.  Because of the significant tides in the St. Lawrence River, there is a lock that protects it and a bridge that goes over it.  The seaway tugboats are on the back side of this and behind them is a large loading area where large ships dock to take on grain products.  The result is a very cluttered scene and for some reason I was crazy enough to try to stuff all that into a 3×5 sketchbook.  It seemed like a good idea at the time (grin).



Field Notes (3x5 - 2-pg spread), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Field Notes (3×5 – 2-pg spread), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

After I finished that torture test, I wandered down to the opening of Bassin Louise to the St. Lawrence.  Faced with a more simple view I did a quick sketch of the scene.  The building complex across the river is a ship-building company, which is why they have so many large cranes.

Stillman & Birn Beta (6x9), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (6×9), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Field Notes Workman’s Companion Edition

I do a lot of sketching in tiny, inexpensive sketchbooks and ever since Marc Taro Holmes suggested using a Moleskine staple-bound notebook, I’ve been trying different notebooks in this 3×5 format.  I was very displeased by the Moleskines as ink bleeds through their thin paper.  So far, every book I’ve tried has that problem.  I’m not talking about ghosting, where you can see the sketch on the backside but ink that actually shows up on the back of the page.  While ghosting is also a problem in most of the notebooks, I’m more tolerant of that as my goal with these books isn’t high-quality sketches.

But FINALLY, I’ve found what I’ve been looking for and it comes in the form of the new Field Notes Workshop Companion issue.  Field Notes are fun because they’re sold in a variety of cover formats.  The problem with them is that they typically use 50lb, inexpensive paper and they’re just not fountain pen friendly.  If you draw with ballpoint pens, they’re fine and very convenient.  But I’m a fountain pen addict and it’s a no go as a sketching substrate.

The Workshop Companion books are different.  They  come with a new, 70lb paper that’s a higher quality than even the couple issues they’ve produced with 70lb paper in the past.   I find I can force ghosting to the point of being annoying but it requires that I really dump a lot of ink on the page.  So far I’ve yet to get any bleedthrough, even with brush pens.  I’ve even applied bits of watercolor to the paper and even that works pretty well.


My first test was a simple outline image, done with a Platinum Carbon Pen and Platinum Carbon ink.  This was a ‘soft’ test as most of these kinds of notebooks will handle this combination, though in this case there was no ghosting whatever, which was an improvement.

2015-06-24FN01I went out sketching and did these quick sketches.  My goal was to try adding some dark shading to see what happens.  This is where most books in this format fail, with both bleedthrough and ghosting.  Here there still wasn’t any bleedthrough and you had to look hard to see ghosting.  Scanning didn’t pick up any of the ghosting.

2015-06-24FN02No special tests here but I was drawing with my Namiki Falcon and De Atramentis Document Black and again, there was no bleedthrough and ghosting was hard to see.

2015-06-24FN03I was doodling while watching a baseball game and dragged this image up from my imagination.  It’s got enough darks in it to really test for bleedthrough and ghosting.  Ghosting can be seen but again, it’s minimal.


I thought I’d do the acid test.  I was watching some guys playing soccer and started drawing this building that was at one end of the soccer pitch.  I added some darks with a Kuretake #33 brush pen and then added some color.  Still no bleed through.  Ghosting is a bit worse but everything’s relative as the ghosting doesn’t get picked up when scanning the backside of this sketch.











In conclusion, I’m a happy camper and I’ll be ordered some more of these Workshop Companion books.  They’re wonderful.  I can shove them in a shirt pocket if I want but more often I have it in a front pouch in my sketching bag so it’s immediately available.

While I can sketch in these books fine, when sketching a 2-page spread it’s nice to have something to hold the book open and flat without having to fiddle around.  I solved that by cutting a small piece of Fomecore, which weighs nothing and I clip the book to this backing board.  It works surprisingly well and really makes holding the book a lot easier.



This is what it looks like when clipped to the board.  It becomes a single unit where you don’t have to worry about keeping the paper flat.



Field Notes As A Sketching Medium

2015-03-21Sharpie_bookI’ve written several blog posts talking about my experiments with various small (3×5) notebooks as a medium for quick-sketching.  I’ve tried the Moleskine Cahier, the Baron Fig Apprentice and most recently Field Notes.  I even made a small binder for Field Notes to provide some support backing while sketching.  I think I’m about to bring that quest to an end and thought I report on what I’ve seen and what I’ve concluded from the experiments.  I wonder if Ponce-de-Leon and Coronado felt the way I do when they figured out that the fountain of youth and the city of gold were myths.

If I were quick-sketching with pencil, or ballpoint, this approach would work quite well.  But for fountain pens and certainly light watercolor washes, the paper is simply too cheap and too thin to handle the task.  Anything but the finest fountain pens will bleed through, causing the back side of the paper to be unusable.  I’m actually ok with that, though this reduces these notebooks to 24 pages making one (me) wonder why I’m not simply using better paper even if it costs a couple cents more.  Watercolor washes fail on two counts.  The paper buckles and the watercolor soaks in immediately and none of the techniques one (me) wants to use are possible.  Here are a few examples:


Bronze head — Pilot Falcon – some bleedthrough when I attempted to darken some areas


Pilot Falcon — this produces some ghosting but no bleedthrough except where I darkened shadow in lower section


I love Tootsie-Pops. This was interesting as I used the Pilot Falcon but a Pentel brush pen for shading. No bleedthrough at all.


Large bronze leaf/boat statue in front of the market area. Pilot Falcon and some light watercolor. All watercolor work buckled the papers considerably, though they sort of flattened once dried



So, in the end I’ve learned a few things.  Mostly I’ve learned that what I said a long time ago remains true.  To get good results you have to use good paper, at least I do.  Another thing remains true.  There isn’t any in a thin, small format.  The closest I’ve gotten to that was a small sketchbook I made by cutting up several sheets from one of my Stillman & Birn sketchbooks but I’m trying hard not to go down the road of making sketchbooks.