Megacerops In Ottawa

My daughter was coming home for Canadian Thanksgiving (it’s in October) and rather than have her take a train, I wisely reasoned that it wouldn’t cost any more for me to drive to Ottawa to pick her up and bring her back to Quebec City.  Yes, it would mean ten hours of driving but heck, I could spend a couple hours sketching in the nature museum (I have a membership).  And yeah, maybe that is a bit crazy but I am, as Steve Martin used to say, a “wild and crazy guy” when it comes to sketching.

So, at 3:30AM I drove out of town so that I could arrive at the museum when it opened at 9AM.  This insanity was rewarded with a wonderful early morning sketching session where I got to hang out with a family of Megacerops.  Well, actually they were life-size models of them.  They roamed Manitoba and some of the plains states, but they went extinct a while ago, maybe even before I was born.  They sure were big, though, and he wouldn’t fit on my paper and I decided that this end was better than the other end.

Stillman & Birn Beta (9x12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & Birn Beta (9×12), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

When I finished I had to leave to meet my daughter for lunch.  We had a great lunch and then continued to chat until her afternoon class.  At that point I repeated my 20-minute walk back to the museum, intent on doing more sketching.

It was not to be.  When I arrived I learned about something called a PA day.  I don’t really know what PA means but it happens in schools.  What it meant to the museum was that every young kid in the Ottawa area was at the nature museum, or so it seemed.  The nature museum is designed for kids to get excited, have fun and with so many of them there the decibel level in the museum, accompanied by the frenetic movement of little bodies around the rooms suppressed any notion I had of drawing.  I made the best of it by actually visiting the museum like a normal person, reading the plaques and learning a few things about the exhibits.

So, please do me a favor.  Look at my Megacerops a few extra seconds; I drove ten hours to draw it (grin).

Spur Of The Moment Road Trip To Ottawa

One of the fundamental skills learned while pursuing a university education is how to dodge and weave through the ever-changing bureaucracy of university administration.  My daughter found herself trying to straighten out a registration problem via email. We decided that a trip to Ottawa would go a long way to cutting through the red tape so we piled into the car and headed west.

Cheap notebook, Platinum Carbon Pen, Platinum Carbon Black ink

Cheap notebook, Platinum Carbon Pen, Platinum Carbon Black ink

First stop was administration, where we were handed a number and told to wait.  Better organized than when I spent many an hour standing in lines waiting for similar things but still, we got to sit around for an hour waiting for our number to be called.  I exercised my mustache notebook and the paper in this $2 sketchbook continues to amaze.  I even got brave and put a bit of color on this quick sketch of a couple people, equally bored, who were watching something on their cell phone.  No show through, not buckling, no nothing.


Surprisingly, once our number came up, everything was resolved in a matter of minutes and we were off to have fun in Ottawa.  We ended up at the natural history museum where this guy posed for me.  He seemed as curious about me as I was about him.

Moleskine watercolor notebook (3x5), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Moleskine watercolor notebook (3×5), Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

I couldn’t pass up the chance to draw some bones and so I chose the head of this monster.  As I was drawing I had a nice conversation with a young girl who had more questions than I had answers.  She was an absolute delight, though, and interactions like this is one of the reasons I love location sketching.

We were sitting in a park just west of the US Embassy, enjoying manga bubble tea.  I decided to quickly capture this view through the trees and I spent a leisurely 15-20 minutes or so doing that.  I generally use these small notebooks for really quick sketches but I really found it fun to do a few more precise sketches in them.  I think I’ll do more of it.

Moleskine watercolor notebook, Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black ink

Moleskine watercolor notebook, Namiki Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black ink


Drawing Some Bones

My family is great.  While I was in Ottawa they understood that I was frustrated by not being able to sit down and sketch for an extended period.  I didn’t have to say it – they knew.  And so, the day before we left for Toronto, they sent me off to sketch by myself.  Hmm…or maybe they were just tired of my presence and wanted to get rid of me.  Either way, I got to go sketching.

I headed immediately for the Canadian Museum of Nature which is spectacular.  We’d spent an evening doing a quick tour of the place and I could spend a lifetime sketching there.  But I was after bones.  Dinosaur bones.

Ever since Tina Koyama started posting her sketches of bones contained in a Seattle museum, I’ve wanted to draw some myself, but bones are sorely lacking in Quebec City, except those holding up the bags of water that march along the streets.

Stillman & BIrn Gamma (10x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & BIrn Gamma (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Once I paid the entry fee, and became a member of the museum, I headed directly for the dinosaur portion of the museum.  It was a great morning as crowds were minimal, the security guard was really nice and we had a great conversation about sketching and photography, and I got to draw bones.  Here are a couple of my efforts.  What fun!  The shapes are interesting, complex and organic.

Stillman & BIrn Gamma (10x7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Stillman & BIrn Gamma (10×7), Namiki Falcon, De Atramentis Document Black

Opportunistic Sketching In Ottawa

I was in Ottawa to pick up my daughter, who was coming home for the summer.  My wife and I decided it would be a good idea to spend a few days there and, I decided it would be a good idea to also drive to Toronto to see a Blue Jays game, though in my defense, it was my daughter’s idea.

And so it was that I found myself as a tourist, with my family, as we wandered the city, mostly just eating, drinking and relaxing.  Many have discussed the difficulties of sketching while on excursions with non-believers, err… non-sketchers and I’m no exception to this struggle.  Still, if one takes advantage of opportunities and is happy with quick-sketching, sketching can become part of the experience.  Here are a few of the small sketches I did while in Ottawa.

2015-05-01Ottawa1We were walking along the Rideau Canal, enjoying the sunshinek and using phrases like “it’s hot today” for the first time in months. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves.  My wife and I decided to give our daughter a rest (that’s our story and we’re sticking to it) so we sat down on a bench.  I got out my sketchbook (3×5) and did this quick sketch of a couple girls talking on the other side of the canal.

2015-05-01Ottawa2Once my daughter was well-rested we moved on.  We walked and walked and walked.  If you lined up all of our steps in a straight line it would be a very long straight line.  But it was fun even for an old man like myself.

We sat on the grass in front of Parliament, along with a bunch of other like-minded (tired from walking no doubt) folks and, as a group, worked on our sunburns.  After that was accomplished we went across the street to the information center.  I’ve found I can get a lot of sketching done while women are in the bathroom and so I started quick-sketching people walking across the street.  Parliament should be in the background somewhere but there’s only so much bathroom time available and I was pushing it.  Color was added later that evening.


At one point we were in a park not far from the US embassy and the art museum.  I don’t know its name and you probably don’t care anyway.  We were drinking bubble tea.  Lots of other folks were enjoying the day and I decided to quickly sketch a few of them.  Here’s one of those sketches, again done in the 3×5 sketchbook.

We went walking again when we returned from Toronto.  There are numerous places where you can look over the Ottawa River and I decided that I needed to do a small cityscape.  I typically fail at this because I try to put too much detail in too small a space, so I was determined to keep this one spartan, quick, and clean.  I hope I succeeded.  I did this one in a Moleskine watercolor book; the brown came from a waterbrush filled with dilute Noodler’s #41 brown ink.


Last and probably least I’ll share with you a sketch I did of my new favorite hyper-sweet drink.  It’s called bubble tea and is composed of tea, a bit of milk and sugar, a choice of flavoring, and a bunch of huge tapioca balls, called “babba” that are soaked in something that makes them black.  They give you a big diameter straw so you can suck these things up along with the drink.  Great opportunity to play with your food.



Sketching When You Have No Time

This is a topic that is discussed regularly.  For the most part it comes up because so many people claim they have no time to draw and those of us who draw spend lots of ink explaining that it’s easy to find time to draw.  I suspect those saying they have no time take those ‘explanations’ with a grain of salt and dismiss them as “well you may have time but I don’t.”

So I thought it might be interesting to start my own approach to this subject by saying that it can be hard to find time to draw if you define drawing as creating a masterpiece.  If you’re picky about what you draw and when, time may become an insurmountable problem.  It’s sort of like a pianist deciding that “playing” means a complete concerto.  But that same pianist sees a piano and they’re inclined to sit and play a few notes.   I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, my recent trip to Ottawa will present a few solutions to the time problm and maybe loosen up the definition of an acceptable drawing.

Before I do this I want to point out that the value here, of ‘drawing’ or ‘sketching’, isn’t defined in terms of the finished product.  Value comes from the experience and fun of the doing.  That simple shift in perspective changes everything and opens the doors wide.

Most of what you’ll see here are quick sketches done in a cheap sketchbook that I wouldn’t normally scan or present them to anyone.  But I had fun doing each one and each of them gave me joy and experience.

Ottawa trip conditions

This was a very busy trip for me.  It wasn’t a “let’s go sketch in Ottawa trip.”  Rather it was a “let’s move our daughter to Ottawa” kind of trip.  Our daughter was moving away for the first time so lots of emotions were heaped on top of the pragmatics of such a move.  There was no situation where I was alone and had large blocks of time to sketch.  I did sketch, however, and the thing that allowed it was having a pen and sketchbook in my pocket at all times.  In this case I carried a pencil, pen, and a small Monologue sketchbook.a

Drawing while resting

2014-09-01RideauQuickSketchMy wife and I went for a walk along the Rideau Canal the morning after we’d moved my daughter into her new apartment.  We needed to decompress a bit and the relaxing walk did us a lot of good.

At one point my wife decided we should sit a minute and I always do what my wife tells me.  We sat.  There were two people looking at the canal on the other side, so I pulled out my sketchbook and, in less than a minute, I drew this quick sketch of them.  It’s not very good but it’s useful to try to capture a subject in a few lines, even if they’re wavy lines (grin).


Sketching at night

2014-09-01nightsketching1Beginning drawing classes love to have people who can’t draw try to draw without looking at their paper.  This is supposed to be good for you.  I don’t believe it for a second, but once you can draw a little bit, this exercise can be valuable.


After spending the day moving stuff into an apartment and dealing with separation anxiety issues, my wife and I found ourselves sitting in a boring hotel room.  We decided to walk to get some coffee.  She suggested that we walk to the Parliament building and enjoy the evening drinking our coffee plein air.  When we got there we found out that the great light show they do every night was going to start in half an hour, as soon as it got dark enough.  We decided to stay to see it and so just relaxed and chatted, sipping coffee on a wonderful summer evening.  This moving stuff wasn’t so bad after all.

2014-09-01nightsketching3As the show was about to begin we moved to a spot where we could sit on a curb (hard for an old man) and watch the show.  It was dark by then but we still had to wait a while for the show to begin.  I got the crazy idea that if the art world thought I could draw without looking at my paper, maybe I could draw the vague forms moving around in the dark without seeing my paper.  I’ve never been accused of being sensible.

I got out my TWSBI Mini, my Monologue A6 sketchbook and started drawing.  These are three of the sketches done in the dark.  I did hold the book up over my head once in a while as it allowed me to catch a bit of reflected light from the street to look at my progress.  Then I’d stick the pen tip on the paper and return it to drawing position so I could continue drawing.  It was so much fun I think I’ll try it again sometime.

Sketching time?

2014-09-02ParliamentGableOur daughter had to spend some time at the university picking up stuff, signing papers, etc.  We were “free” for a couple hours.  We made a disappointing visit to an art supply store that was, well, short of supplies in my opinion.  So we decided to wander around the Parliament grounds with the thought of sketching.  It would be tough for me to do one of my “takes forever” sketches so I had to choose something that wouldn’t take a long time… maybe a piece of something.  I chose to do one of the gables on the original Parliament building (built in 1883 I think).  Perspective suffered due to the rush but dems da breaks.

Then we went back to the Rideau canal where I managed to spend half an hour drawing one of the modern buildings which will be made famous by our daughter attending her classes within its walls.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10x7), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7), Pilot Falcon, Platinum Carbon Black

These last two sketches consumed less than an hour of time and that time was hard to come by.  For the rest?  Easy peasy if you have a sketchbook and pointy device with you.  Are the quick sketches worthy of showing to your friends?  Not sure but they were just as much fun to do as these last two and isn’t that why we sketch?