Relaxing In St. Simeon

Late in August most of the lockdown stuff was over.  We’re still wearing masks because we’re not idiots, but back then we were like bears poking our head out of the cave, unsure if we wanted to come out.  Being a bit apprehensive about traveling anywhere, but also feeling like most and wanting a change from being sequestered at home, we decided to take a trip.

We didn’t need or want a big “see the sites” trip and most tourist things were shut down anyway, so we decided to go somewhere and sit, without our computers, without TV, and without an agenda.  I even made the decision to limit my sketching during the trip.

We chose St. Simeon, Quebec because there isn’t ANYTHING in St. Simeon except a coastline along the beginnings of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  When I say there isn’t anything I really mean it.  No good restaurants, no coffee shops, no nothing.  But we did have a hotel that looked out on the water and it was quiet enough.  We drove up a valley that holds the Black River and did a bit of sitting by the river.  I spent half an hour making a sketch of the tree-lined roadway.  I had a lot of fun doing it but I can’t show it to you.  I’d forgotten what a spiral-bound sketchbook can do to a pencil drawing and the sketch has become a cloud of smeared graphite.

On another day, however, we went to “Port au Persil,” which is a small town with a gorgeous cove area and a pier where you can sit and watch whales.  I got to see my first beluga whale which was exciting.  Actually, we saw lots of them during our trip.  By whale standards they’re quite small but they’re snow white and gorgeous.  My sketchbook came out around the cove though.  The cove is full of rounded sandstone rocks and I couldn’t resist.  This reflects those formations.

Mostly, though, we sat on the balcony of our hotel, or walked along the beach.  This involved a lot of whale watching, some beer drinking and a lot of salsa and chips.  It was delightful.  I decided that I should try to paint the coastline and I’m afraid I let the paint get away from me a bit but I’ll share it anyway.

The trip was a big success.  It seems that doing nothing appeals to both of us and we felt great as we headed for home.  I need to spend more time doing nothing.

I Visited The Montreal Botanical Gardens

A couple weeks ago our daughter came to spend the weekend and rather than have her take the bus back to Montreal I drove her there, giving me an excuse to visit the Avenue des Arts, a wonderful art store.  I spent way too much money there but gosh, what’s a guy to do when a store has DeAtramentis Document inks, Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, and a bunch of other great stuff that isn’t available in Quebec City?

The next morning I headed off to the Montreal Botanical Gardens where I spent half a day sketching stuff, including this place that’s part of the Chinese pavilion there.  l had a great time but was quite tired when I headed back to Quebec City.

A Wonderful Summer With Less Art

Summer is struggling to hang on here in Quebec City and I’m grateful.  Very few leaves have dropped and the trees are still mostly green.   So we’re continuing to do our walking regime, while talking about what we’ll do when it finally does snow.

My summer has been less “sketch filled” than ever before and you know, I don’t feel bad about that.  I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t been posting here but I’ll try to catch up “real soon” because a number of things have occurred with my art over the past few weeks and it’ll be fun to share those with you.

I promised not to bore you with my stream of 4-5 minute sketches but I think sharing a few of them might give me a chance to mention what I actually have been sketching while out on our walks.  First are the people.  I’ve drawn a bunch of them, mostly as we sit, taking a break in one of the local parks.  These are typical of those efforts.  Nothing to write home about but I really like the little girl, with her large head and big hair, perched on her frail body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t do portraits but who could resist sketching this guy, who sat down across from me in the park.  I did take advantage of my wife’s patience as this one took more than five minutes, but not more than ten.

If you do quick drawings in parks, you draw plants.  I did and this is one of them.  I think it’s some sort of hibiscus and I added the color while sitting at home.

Then there are the rocks.  Our parks are full of them, placed around as little statues.. or something.  I’ve documented a bunch of them.

I’ll throw this one in as my “teaching moment.”  Chantal started bring her sketchbook with her and found the 5-minute routine as frustrating as I do.  At one point we were discussing how to grab a scene quickly and so I showed her how I would grab a scene in a minute or two.  As I’ve said, I’m not good at this but then ability has never prevented artists from giving advice to someone else (grin).

Those are some examples of the sorts of things I’ve been doing while out on my daily walks.  All were done in 3×5 or 4×6, dollar store sketchbooks.  My new knee is serving me well.  It’s the best joint in my body and the others are straining to keep up.  I’m afraid getting old isn’t pretty and it’s beginning to limit my overall ability to urban sketch but as time marches on, so do I.

Again, I apologize for my lack of blogging activity and hopefully you’ll see more from me “real soon.”  Hope everyone is doing well.

The Sketching Path We Travel

I’ve been pondering where I want to go with my art and thus, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the path I’ve taken to get where I am.  It’s funny, and maybe a bit odd, that I’ve been trying to get better at sketching and I haven’t done much of this kind of reflection.  Instead, I’ve plodded along as a guy “who draws stuff” and most of that drawing has been as a pen and ink guy who uses color to tint sketches, as so many urban sketchers do.

When I look back, though, I recall the early stages, where I was trying to draw things.  I would choose those things based upon what I was capable of drawing.  This is the stage where new sketchers say things like:

“I can’t draw buildings because I don’t understand perspective.”

“How do you draw a car?”

“Gardens are hard because they are complicated.”

“How do you draw trees?”

Eventually, sketchers learn that what they’ve been told over and over is true.  Everything is just a shape.  This changes things forever once we adopt this view.  It takes some time (for me it was counted in years), but you shift from looking at things and start seeing and drawing shapes.

The draw shapes path causes a change in what you try to draw because now, anything is a good subject, not just things you know how to draw.  A nose is no different from a can of soup to a shape sketcher.  For me, this didn’t come easy (maybe I haven’t even completed this shift) but it’s so liberating.

When it does occur, however, you need a new criterion for choosing a subject.  We all like to believe that we choose subjects based upon some high-art goal but in my experience that’s rarely the case.  In fact, I’d say that most sketchers, once they work with shapes, more often choose a subject based upon how much time they have, can I see it from a shady spot, and with a dose of “what’s my style?” mixed into the analysis.

And this is where we come back to me.  I’ve always been a guy who loves fountain pens and who worries a lot about proportions and relative sizes.  Translate that to mean, I’m not good at “loose” or “simplification.”  Marc Holmes has chided me into trying to draw loose and quickly a number of times.  I’ve tried.  Maybe I’ll get there some day but my sense is that I  simply like the process of capturing proper proportions, angles, etc.  All of this in spite of the fact that I’d love to be able to draw in the loose, “painterly” (his word) style he uses.

And so when I choose my subject, largely according to how much time I have, I have to choose a smaller, more simple subject than Marc would for the same amount of time.  I’m just not good enough to do it any other way.  Not a bad thing and to quote Clint Eastwood, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

Here’s an example where I didn’t choose well.  Heck, I didn’t choose at all.  We were out on a walk, wanted to sit in the shade and I found myself looking at the butt end of a large statue of Simon Bolivar on his horse.  At most I’d have five minutes to draw it as we rested.  In reality, given my sloth-like approach to sketching, it would have taken an hour to do a decent sketch.  BTW, this will be the last of my 5-min sketches that you’ll see.  This one was a good example of what I am talking about here but I won’t abuse your sense with any more of them (grin).

How do you make your subject choices?  Are you lucky enough to have moved beyond all this and so can draw anything in no time?

Getting Back To Normal?

Before COVID, and before all my leg problems, my life was simple and thus, returning to it should be equally simple.  I’m finding it hard, however.

My daughter did return to Montreal last week so we’re back to being empty nesters.  Chantal is still working from home, which I hope is a prelude to her retirement.  And I’m getting so that walking is actually fun again.  So it should be easy, right?

But my head isn’t in the “old” place right now.  I used to get up, eat breakfast and head out the door to sketch.  I’ve yet to do that simple behavior once.  Instead, Chantal and I are walking… a lot.  We’re getting in 6-8 kilometers a day and when we get back from that, exhaustion is near at hand.  So, we generally fix some lunch and I watch a recorded Blue Jays game or the Olympics.  Also, there are endless home maintenance tasks that were postponed because of all the limping I was doing.

So I haven’t been doing much sketching.  I have started carrying a small sketchbook when we walk and sometimes there’s time for a quick, 5-min sketch while we sit and take a break.  It’s good practice and it’s getting me back in the mood, but it’s like eating a single potato chip – not very satisfying.  Here’s a couple that I have done recently.