Today was a new sketching experience for me. Most of my sketching has been directed at buildings; mostly on the streets of Quebec City. But as I’ve reported, winter has driven me into museums and so I’ve been boring you with sketches of Samurai helmets and Nigerian masks.
My sketching buddies, who are all better sketchers than I am, are similarly afflicted with the ‘It’s Too Cold To Be Outdoors Sketching Blues’ and Celine decided to do something about it. She invited Pierre, Yvan, and myself to her house for a sketching session in her studio.
Her studio is a wonderful place, with lots of spot lights, tables and shelves full of “stuff” to sketch. It was hard for me to turn my back on her great art library, but we were there to sketch so we did.
Pierre pointed at a bowl of artificial fruit and said, “I want to sketch that” and just as though following orders from Capt. Picard on Star Trek, we followed his orders and ‘made it so.’
Celine set up a spot light over the fruit and we sat in a circle around the fruit bowl, and sketched…and sketched. It took me forever as I’d never done a still life of any kind. Does a building count as a still life?
I’m still getting used to using watercolor pencils and this sketch taught me a few things, including some “gonna have to figure out how to…” sorts of things. One thing I found interesting is that they didn’t seem to work as well in my S&B Beta sketchbook as they do in my S&B Epsilon sketchbook. I guess the smoother paper of the Epsilon keeps the pigment higher on the paper, making it easier to wash them out evenly. With regular watercolors I really prefer the Beta paper as it’s so much thicker.
Here’s my completed sketch, done in a Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook (6×8), using a Pilot Prera and Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink. Don’t tell the urban sketchers I did this one. They might drum me out of the corps, though it was done ‘on location’ so I guess it qualifies. I’m still reading the fine print on such things.
Sketching fruit works up an appetite and Celine and Pierre had prepared a feast for us. My usual sketching lunch is a granola bar and an apple so I was completely unprepared for a heavenly soup, fine cheeses, crackers, and fruit. This was followed by dessert and a yummy oolong tea. Let it be written that Larry ate too much.
And then it was back to sketching. Well, I indicated some reluctance as I was once again buried up to my nose in Celine’s art library. So many books…so little time. Eventually I found myself sketching a small ceramic statue of a blue jay. It’s the first bird I’ve ever sketched. It’s also the first bird that’s ever stood still long enough for my slow sketching pace to capture it. Thanks, bird. Here it is, done in the same sketchbook, same pen, same ink, same limited abilities.
We finished up with discussions of sketching and Yvan, as usual, provided some great insights. His skill is enormous, and exceeded only by his patience for my silly questions. I write this as the end to a perfect day. Thanks again, Celine.
Larry, your skills are taking leaps and bounds! Great info on the differences between the two S&B papers too.
Thanks, Ruca. One of the good things about being at the bottom of the learning curve is that even baby steps feel like leaps and bounds 🙂 Being able to see the work of good artists like you via the Internet really helps with those baby steps. Of course, sketching almost constantly helps too 🙂
Cheers — Larry
Great still lifes! I think most urban sketchers, at least those of us far from the equator, are closet still life sketchers in the winter. (I really like the idea of going to someone else’s house to sketch — I get really bored sketching the stuff in my own house!) I’m surprised to hear that you found the Epsilon paper better for colored pencils! I would have guessed the toothier Beta paper better for pencil. I love Epsilon paper with fountain pen ink and markers, but I’ve had mixed results with pencils. But I’ll have to give it another try, now that I’ve heard about your experience.
A wonderful post, Larry! I enjoyed hearing all about your sketching day at Celine’s house and I’m quite envious that you have a group of people to sketch with. Your sketches are lovely also! If you had the choice to buy only one of them….would it be the Epsilon or the Beta?
I suspect you’re right about closet (still life) urban sketchers. What other choice do we have?
I’m equallly surprised that you don’t like the Epsilon for pencils as that’s what it’s designed for 🙂 Its surface is very similar to that of the Stonehenge paper that is so popular with colored pencil folks. But my comments are really limited to my own use and that’s with watercolor pencils. I’m not trying to build layers or even color in large areas. I lightly add color to the area I want to be the darkest tone and then pull the color out across the surface in something akin to a graded wash as you might when using a washable ink and wanting to do shading. In that situation, the tooth of the Beta seems to hold onto the pencil more than I like. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Beta paper thickness, particularly for watercolor but the truth is, I use more Alpha than either Beta or Epsilon 🙂
Cheers — Larry
Likewise, I use (and prefer) Gamma paper over either Beta/Delta or Epsilon. For the light washes I do, the Gamma seems to hold up quite well, and I like the texture of the slight tooth. But next month I’m going to start a watercolor class, and for that I’m looking forward to using my Beta book. Sounds like the forthcoming Zeta paper will be the best of all worlds for you — heavier paper for watercolor, and smooth surface for water-soluble pencils! (Those S&B folks have us all, don’t they…!)
If I could choose only one? OMG, say it will never happen, QUICK!
I’m too new to sketching to be as fickle as I am about paper. Seems I’ve bought some of all of it and then S&B came along. Now all I have to do is wrestle with the question you just posed. You might want to read this post: https://larrydmarshall.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1279&action=edit
I have done more sketches on S&B Alpha paper than either Epsilon or Beta but I love the thickness of the Beta paper. All the papers handle pen and ink ok, though if you rank them in order of paper smoothness (rough to smooth) Epsilon is the smoothest, followed by Alpha and then Beta.
For watercolor I don’t find much difference, but then I generally use watercolors like crayons, filling in pen and ink areas with light washes. But the Beta paper shines here as you can dump water on the stuff and it won’t buckle or show through.
My comment in this post is related to using watercolor pencils as replacements for my light wash techniques with watercolors. I lightly wave the watercolor pencil at the areas, putting most of the color where I want the most darkest tone (often I’ll add a bit of black or brown to this area) and then I use a waterbrush to pull the color out across the surface towards the highlight areas. Or at least that’s what I try to do 🙂 For THIS operation, the Epsilon seems to hold the pencil pigments on top of the paper and these washes are very smooth. Same thing with Beta paper leaves me with some of the pigment in the pores of the paper and they’re harder to move.
But, in the end, I just don’t have enough experience or technique to make subtle distinctions between these papers. It’s easy to see the difference between S&B and the rest, though and I just love them.
Cheers — Larry
It does seem that we sketchers are a fickle lot when it comes to paper. I do think the Alpha/Gamma is a nice compromise, though my Beta sketchbook is wonderful as a watercolor substrate. I tend to work on only one side of the paper, though, and dropping page count to 25 per sketchbook (because of the thick paper) does cause me to go through them awfully quick.
Cheers — Larry
Very nice Larry. The helmets and mask were interesting. I have sketched in the museum too. I see some people sketching so fast and beautifully it makes me self conscious of my own work. I love your still life of both the fruit and blue jay. You need a statue of the blue jay. I tried to sketch the ones nesting near our home. I would put out peanuts and they would slowly come near and then quickly swoop down and grab the peanut and leave. Even trying to take pictures didn’t work.
Thanks for stopping by, Nancy. I know the feeling of being with people who are quicker and better than you. I live it almost daily (grin). I confess it took some getting used to as I’m relatively new to sketching and I sketch VERY slowly. But you know what? I love having people around me who are my betters as there’s so much more to learn. The toughest thing for me was to figure out how to sketch with quick sketchers and still work at my own pace. Mostly I’ve solved that by picking smaller subjects than they pick, allowing me to finish about the same time they do.
Those pesky birds. You’d think they’d be more cooperative if you’ve fed them. Maybe they don’t understand that you’re not a quick sketcher 🙂
Cheers — Larry