A Short Trip To Levis

To both of you who follow this blog, I apologize for my absence.  It’s embarrassing to admit but without my laptop I’m dead in the water, and I had a hard drive crash late last week.  I got the problem diagnosed by Friday night and then began waiting for a hard drive to arrive in the mail.  This is not something you want to be doing as the weekend is just beginning.

So, I scuttled around in my basement and, using ancient computer parts, cobbled together something that looked like a computer and ran almost as fast as an abacus.  But it did get me email and limited web access.  The drive arrived on Tuesday and I’m now back in business  Thank goodness for backups as not much was lost except for a lot of time.

3x5 - Pilot Prera w/Lex Gray ink

3×5 – Pilot Prera w/Lex Gray ink

During that time I went for a long sketching walk.  First stop was to do a quick sketch of sailboats in the harbor.  Me and sailboats don’t get along well, mostly because I don’t know much about the rigging and doo-dads that encrust the top surface of sailboats and, from my distant vantage point, these things are hard to make out.  But I continue to try and this sketch consumed ten minutes of my time.  The fact that I was standing up didn’t help much.  I do wish I could get better at sketching while standing 🙁

I wandered around downtown for a while and then got the notion to head to Levis as the sun was out and I always look for an excuse to ride the ferry.  On my way over I recalled a small, but rather ornate house I’d seen while I was in Levis sketching with fellow sketcher, Yvan.  This is it.  The people got sort of faked in using people who were walking by.  I ran out of room while adding the woman and I’m not sure she has a left arm.  If she does, it’s somewhere in the guy’s right side (grin).

Stillman & Birn Zeta (5x8), Pilot Prera w/ Platinum Carbon Black ink

Stillman & Birn Zeta (5×8), Pilot Prera w/ Platinum Carbon Black ink

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).

Capturing The Motion Of A City

I’m primarily a building sketcher.  I don’t have to worry much about my subject walking or driving away.  But I’m also an urban sketcher and things do move in cities.  Trains, planes, and automobiles are constantly on the move, as are buses, construction equipment, and parade floats.

How do you capture complex objects that won’t sit still?  You can use photos but I’m not that fond of sitting in my office drawing pictures.  To be honest, I have difficulty drawing from photos.  I’ve spent enough time field-sketching that I just ‘see’ so much more in real life than I can see in a photo.

I did a spur of the moment experiment and I thought I’d share it with you.  I was walking along ‘my’ river and at one point there’s a train bridge that crosses the river and heads into the downtown train station.

As luck would have it the train from Montreal pulled across the bridge and stopped.  It does this because it has to wait while they throw a bunch of switches so it can back through a wye (trackage to turn a train) so that, ultimately, it can back into the station.  In less than a minute the train backs out of the scene.

I decided to sketch it so I got out my Stillman and Birn Zeta (5×8) and a pencil.  That’s right, a pencil.  I quickly drew a long box to represent the train, the slope of the nose of the train, and several lines indicating where the major parts of the bridge intersected with the train.  Then, the train was gone.

I got out my pen and started drawing the bridge.  I thought my brain was going to melt at times while trying to figure out all the angles of the steel-truss bridge but it was also fun.  I left the site with a bridge with a big, long empty box inside it.

VIA2When I got home I sifted through my photos, surfed the internet, and ultimately found a picture of the ViaRail train engine, taken from its left side.  This gave me all the detail information I needed to complete my sketch.  I did have a bit of difficulty envisioning the proper perspective but most of what I needed to add were squarish panels, so it wasn’t too bad.  I liked the result.  I have captured a train.


 I suppose an urban sketcher purist would take issue with my use of a photo this way but, to me, the hard part of this sketch was done on site and I am now looking for other ways to capture moving objects.  Next stop…to sit across from a metrobus stop, drawing a bus; the buses arrive/depart every 10 minutes.  Only a few seconds per bus but there are lots of buses.  Wish me luck (grin).

Taxi Guys Need A Place Too!

Firemen have their firehouse.  Policemen have donut shops. Sketchers have libraries, coffee shops, and street corners.  And taxi cab drivers need a place too.  In Quebec it looks like this:

2013-08-15TaxiStandCAt least the one not far from my house looks like this.  I’m not exactly sure what they do in there but they have a washing machine outside.  I suspect it’s something of an oasis that lets the drivers get out of the car once in a while.  The bright yellow building and the orange background wall conspired to insist that I draw them, and so I did.  Stillman & Birn Zeta (5×8) using a Uniball Signo UM151 pen.  It’s hard for a fountain pen guy to admit it, but I love these pens and their waterproof ink.


This Is The Back Of The Building?

I was downtown Sunday, waiting for the Festivale de Nouvelle France events to spool up.  I was sitting in the courtyard in front of the Trinity Anglican Church and from there I could see this view of the back of large government building.  I think it’s the finance building.  I decided to sketch it.

I took a somewhat different approach, experimenting a bit.  I spent more time with a pencil, adding more than just layout lines.  I used my typical 3H pencil, but from these light lines, I laid in light color washes before I added any ink to the sketch.  This allowed me, or so I think, to use a lighter hand with the ink lines, which I followed up with more watercolor.  I think, if I knew anything about watercolors, this would be a good approach.  I know it works well for many other sketchers and I’ll continue to pursue it.

I did it in my Stillman & Birn Zeta (5×8) sketchbook, with a Pilot Prera and Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink.