Urban Sketching For International Nature Journal Week

I grew up in Arizona.  The standing joke there is that you don’t need weathermen.  All you need is a daily announcement of “Sunny and hot.”  I didn’t discover seasons until I moved north where I had a lot of difficulty dealing with the demands of “dressing for the weather.”  More than one kind of clothes?  Who’da thunk it?

Lately, though, our Quebec weatherman has had a limited offering of “It’s about to rain,” “It’s raining,” and “The rain is going to stop for a couple hours.”  So I’ve done little sketch wandering lately.

But yesterday we got a whole morning without rain so I headed out to to do a bunch of walking on my river.  It’s also International Nature Journal Week and I thought I might do something in honor of it.  Mostly, though, I wanted to spend time in nature, sitting on a rock or walking.

It occurred to me, however, that I was an urban sketcher and thus it seemed appropriate for me to select this common urban flower as my subject.  So, I sat on a rock and drew a dandelion.

It was very relaxing and enjoyable and after completing my walk I headed home my walk culminating in an old-man run/jog/slog.  It had started raining.

Sketching Is For The Birds

It was only five days ago that I reported that we hadn’t had high temps above 10C yet.  Times change.  For the next three days we’re going to experience temps around 30C, which is kinda-sorta abnormal for us.  We generally get a couple days like that in mid-summer but certainly not in May.  But I’m not complaining.  I went sketching.

Another bit of news that’s relevant to this post is that I just got a hearing aid.  It’s not a fancy programmable one but it has allowed me to discover a lot of sounds I haven’t heard in a long time.

I stopped at a park bench and decided to try to draw/paint directly with a brush.  I’ve been learning how to handle brushes and Marc Holmes’ 30 in 30days (direct to watercolor) event is coming up next month and I want to try it. I didn’t bring my watercolors but I had a waterbrush with some diluted ink and so I did this simple drawing.  Look ma, no lines.  I include it here only for the sake of completeness.

I was walking along my river and the first thing I experienced was birds singing.  I love birds and spend a considerable amount feeding them every year.  But I haven’t heard them in decades.  Well, I can hear crows, but none of the songbirds.  Anyways, the trees along my river had birds, chirping birds.  And so my first act wasn’t to sketch but to lay down in the grass, close my eyes, and just listen.  It was wonderful.  I spent half an hour doing only that.

But I did want to sketch and so I sat up, noticed a line of trees and started sketching.  The “scene” wasn’t that great so I added my own mountains and came up with this sketch.

It was time to walk so I headed up river and eventually came across some rocks to sketch.  These sit, among others, at the end of a new walk bridge the city built last year.  I’ll have to sketch that soon but for this day these rocks were just the thing.  Color got added when I got home.

It was sooooo good to get out sketching.  Maybe I’ll do it again tomorrow (grin).

Art And Life’s Little Cycles

The last big sketching adventure I took was back in 2017.  It was when Liz Steel came to Monatreal and I got lucky and spent an entire day trying to keep up with her and Marc Taro Holmes, a couple of the fastest sketchers on the planet.  I failed miserably but had the time of my life.

The next day Liz met with everyone to sketch in downtown Montreal, and we did.  But in the afternoon I had to leave early because my leg started hurting badly.  I wasn’t sure why.

And that was the beginning of a slide downward, to the point that I had a hard time walking around my house, let alone around the city.  The pandemic resulted in difficulty seeing doctors as the hospitals became overwhelmed with COVID patients.  My knee replacement surgery got cancelled twice but finally happened last year.

I’m older, not much wiser, but when Marc called me and said that she an Laurel Holmes would be driving back from Baie St. Paul and wondered if they could visit I was thrilled.  We all went sketching, though Laurel did it with a camera.  Her results were better too (grin).

Truth is, we spent far more time over coffee, talking about writing, doing art, and the world in general than we did sketching.  It was so cold that being outside for long wasn’t appealing.   The tale that follows was the most sketcher-battery charging event that I’ve had in several years.

Montreal meets Quebec City

I was to meet Marc and Laurel at the Marriot hotel Saturday morning.  I was there, where were they?  I texted Marc, he said they’d be right down, so I sat down and quickly sketched this large vase in the Marriot lobby.

Then Marc phoned with “Where are you?” and it turns out, there are TWO Marriots in Quebec City.  I was at the wrong one.  A bit of a windy walk/jog solved that problem and soon enough we were sitting in a cafe talking a mile a minute in an attempt to “catch up.”

Eventually, though we decided to go to the Plains of Abraham museum which celebrates a famous battle between the British and French, much of which took place on what is now a huge park outside the walled city that is Old Quebec.

Did I mention that Marc sketches fast?  I try to keep up but I’m just not worthy.  Nevertheless, it’s fun to try.  While I did this sketch, he did three of them (grin).  We worked mostly in pencil all day.

We continued sketching and, it seemed, my sketches got smaller and smaller.  Here’s one I did of a hand-carved head that was only two inches tall.

It became lunch time and we went to a restaurant and continued gabbing but ultimately decided we should go sketch.  It was bitter cold and windy so we walked across the street and quickly sketched a statue of Confucius.  I started it too small and ended the same way but my hands were frozen so I didn’t care.  Eventually we decided to regroup in the morning, hoping for better weather.

I met them at their hotel and we headed directly for the McDonalds for breakfast.  Again we couldn’t seem to get enough of art talk, but we decided to go to the Hotel Frontenac to sketch.  I was determined to do a larger (we were both working on 5×7 sheets of paper) sketch but I gave up on it because I’d gotten the organization of the building all wrong.  By then we were both very cold so I did this small sketch of a statue of Cartier that stands next to the hotel.

After lunch I suggested we go to a small park that overlooks the St. Lawrence and that has classic buildings around it.  I thought it might be out of the wind.

Marc has his annual 30×30 event coming up where you create one painting/sketch direct-to-watercolor every day for 30 days.  Thus, we talked a lot about that.  I tried it and learned a few things.  First, is that you’ve got to keep your work relatively dry or you’ll lose all your edges.  Second, never get impatient and try to add darks on top before the sketch is dry.  I did neither of these things, of course.  That’s how I learned them.  Oh, a third thing I learned is that I can’t talk while doing it like I can when I draw.  Better luck next time, Larry.

It’s funny how such a motley pile of sketches can bring so much joy.  I had a great time and I’m grateful that Marc and Laurel thought of me and stopped by.

Oh…before I go.  As if I haven’t embarrassed myself enough with these sketches, here’s an example of where artistic accidents aren’t so happy.  I decided to add some color to my uniformed manikin and while doing so dropped a brush full of pyrrol red onto the left side of the uniform.  I scrambled to fix/fake it but gave up after a while.

 

Preparing For A Season Of Street Sketching

It’s -10C outside my window at the moment and the sidewalks here are full of ice, very lumpy ice.  But weather reports suggest that melting should commence in earnest starting tomorrow.  My daughter tells me that Montreal sidewalks are free of ice so that’s a hopeful sign.  Anyways, very soon I’ll be joining those of you who are currently scurrying about your cities drawing cherry blossoms and crocuses (grin).

I’ve been involved in learning to paint, or attempting to and because of that I haven’t been drawing much.  I decided that I should get some pointy sticks out and start pushing them about to see if I still can.  Also, in the recent past I made a comment about not posting my casual sketches and someone asked me why not and encouraged me to do so.

In answer to the first question I just don’t want my practice to feel like I’m “producing content.”  I confess that I sometimes think all the posting to the internet may be one of the worst things that has happened to artists though I confess to being addicted to look at sketches produced by others.  Those views cause me to keep a lot of what I do off the internet.  It’s also time consuming to scan/post every sketch I do.  In short, I’m lazy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alvin Mark posts a lot of great vlogs on his YouTube channel and he was doing a sketchbook tour.  I took that as an opportunity to quickly sketch some of the people he had sketched on the Singapore trains.

 

While sitting in my studio/office I just started drawing stuff, using ballpoint pens.  The red pen was giving me a lot of trouble and I made a mess of the scissors trying to chase the intermittent lines it was creating/

Here’s a page from the small scribble book I carry everywhere.

 

Last and probably least, I was enjoying a snack and quickly moved this stub of a pencil around until the page resembled something.

I’ve found that my time hiding from COVID and making messes with oil paints have left my pointy stick skills rusty.  I’m hoping to get lots of miles done this summer.

 

 

 

 

 

Doing The 100 People Challenge

This week many people are drawing, or trying to draw, 100 people in five days.  Run every year by Marc Taro Holmes and Liz Steel, this is a popular annual event.  It’s no small coincidence that the two people leading this charge are two of the fastest sketchers I’ve seen and a pair that place a VERY high premium on sketching quickly.  I don’t say that as a negative, just a fact.

I still remember the first time someone suggested that I draw people on the move.  I was sketching with a couple people, both my betters, and they said, “Let’s go downtown and draw pedestrians waiting for the light to change.  I didn’t see my face at the time, but I’m sure my expression was “Are you nuts?”  The thought of drawing a person, a whole person, as 15-20 seconds was so far beyond my comprehension that I knew it was a joke.  And it was a joke… when I tried it that first time.

Sadly, the people who do this stuff regularly think it’s normal and so they don’t talk much about how people who don’t find it normal can do it.  I thought, rather than just another rally cry for the event, I’d mention a couple solutions that some use to do this.  I should preface this with the important fact.  All of these approaches are done by people who, if they have the time, can draw very detailed people.  There’s an old adage that if you can’t draw something slowly, you can’t draw it fast.  I think that’s true.

I’m going to describe “capturing” a character with the full knowledge that the results aren’t going to hang in the Louvre anytime soon (grin).  You’ve got to be ok with that before you launch into the 100 People Challenge.

Draw the bare minimum

The first thing you have to understand is that you’re not doing Sargent-level portraiture.  You don’t have time.  Many add two things together to accomplish the task.  They draw their people very small and do little more than draw lines for legs and arms with a round ball for a head.  I’d call this the stickman approach except that most grab for drawing something a bit more complete, where the arms and legs are positioned, bent appropriately, and so you can easily see what the character was doing.  This is a really good approach if you’re happy with these simple results.

Loosy Goosy approach

Artists throw around the term “loose” a lot.  With no solid defnition of the word it’s said that we should all be this, so we’re not “tight.”  My guess is that a lot of the great artists of our past would take issue with this but that’s how the modern world rolls.

Anyway, a lot of artists, realizing that there’s little time for drawing leg and arm musculature accurately in the few seconds they have simply abandon the idea entirely, drawing arms and legs heading off in the right direction but not necessarily with proper geometry.  They keep everything “loose” and are ok with that, no matter how “tight” they might do their next studio portrait.

Sweat the small stuff later approach

This takes on different forms depending upon the artist.  Some will draw an action line defining the subject’s orientation and then add only a few points defining joints, clothing boundaries, etc.  Some will go over these drawings with more ink later, correcting errors.  Others will do a complete contour of the subject while thinking about how color will help them complete the figure.

Still others will do a continuous, or nearly so, pencil sketch, all the time thinking of what they’re going to do with color to bring the character to life.  There is no one better at doing this approach than Marc Holmes.  He is so adept with both pencil and brush that it’s a joy to watch him draw characters.

All of these approaches require that you’re planning on working on your drawings later, probably at home.  The hard thing for many is drawing while thinking color, light and shade, etc. placing lines to indicate shadow borders, etc.

Make sure you’re drawing someone who will stay put for a couple minutes (grin)

The master of this approach is Alvin Mark.  His targets are people eating, people on buses, people on trains, anywhere that people stop.  His ability to draw precise contour drawings of people, reflecting not only their personality but their weight and its balance, is uncanny.  But he chooses his targets wisely.

So, these are some of the ways that people accomplish the task.  What I haven’t said is that it’s a LOT of fun and the more you do of it the easier it becomes.  I’m still not good at it and may never be.  I’m the slowest sketcher on the planet and so my “skills” aren’t amenable to quick sketching.  When sketching people I guess I’m closer to a “loosy goosy” sketcher than anything else.  I’ll let you decide.  These are the sketches I did yesterday, during the first day of the event.