Follow Up To My Extreme Sketching Post

I’ve had a couple people worried about my fingers after I did my extreme sketching post, or maybe they were worried about their fingers if they tried this craziness.  In any case I wanted to mention something that should have been in the original post.

In previous years I’ve tried various glove solutions for winter sketching and have never found anything that works.  This has included all manner of fingerless gloves, gloves where I’d cut just thumb and one finger tip off the glove, thin leather gloves – you name it; I’ve probably tried it.

I see the problem as two fold.  First is that you need something that allows you to have a good feel when there’s a pen in your hand and you also want something warm enough to keep your hands warm and ready to start sketching if you’re walking around like I do.  These two things are incompatible with one another.

My “solution” came when I started having arthritis problems in my hands.  A friend bought me a set of gloves designed for those so inflicted.

When he gave them to me I thought “sure…like those are going to help.”  In truth, they might help a little with my arthritis but not much.  But they have interesting virtues that other fingerless gloves do not have.

  • They are thin and made of an elastic material designed to compress your hand/muscles somewhat as you wear them while doing normal routine things.  They also have seams so placed that they don’t get in the way of doing those routines.  Because of this goal, they fit tighter/better than anything else I’ve tried.  This, of course, comes at a price – they cost about $20.
  • Because these gloves are so thin and hold tight to your hand everywhere, I can slide them into my normal winter gloves.

Notice how these two things line up with the problems I’ve mentioned.  The thin, fingerless nature of these gloves allow good control of the pen and being able to pull gloves on over them makes it easy to keep my hands warm while I walk.

As I said, these aren’t a perfect solution.  When it’s -20C, no thin glove is going to keep your hands warm, but they do keep the wind off your skin, which is a big deal when it’s this cold.  I wouldn’t want to rely upon them for a 15-min sketch but for a 5-min sketch, they’re perfect.  I wear one on my pen hand only and hold the book with my right, fully gloved hand, which isn’t great but it beats losing my fingers to the cold (grin).

Extreme Urban Sketching

Once upon a time I realized that it was crazy to try to sketch outdoors during Quebec winters.  I wasn’t happy about it, but I accepted it.  Then, along came Marc Taro Holmes, talking about wanting to lose weight by walking and using sketching to motivate himself.  He spoke of wandering Montreal, doing 5-6 minute sketches.  He enticed us with some of the sketches he’d done and threw down a gauntlet, daring someone to join him in this endeavour.  I accepted the challenge.

I knew it was crazy.  I knew I didn’t have the skills that Marc has.  But I was also desperate to sketch outside.  I’ve dedicated a small Stillman & Birn Epsilon softcover to this project.  I was motivated by the realization that doing this could help me develop several skills, presuming I didn’t lose my fingers to frostbite. These skills were:

1) Learn how to hold a sketchbook while sketching

I know… after five years of sketching you’d think I could hold a sketchbook out in front of me and sketch, but I can’t.  I typically sit when I sketch, resting the sketchbook on my lap or, using a larger sketchbook stuffed into my gut, I can sketch while standing.  Holding a small sketchbook (3×5) in one hand while drawing with the other – not on your life.

2) Improve my ability to draw something with fewer lines

I draw in either a cartoon or illustrative style.  To do this quickly is nearly impossible, at least for me because there are just too many lines and too much detail.  To draw quickly one must learn to identify which lines are important and draw only those.  I’m really bad at this and want to get better.

3) Improve my ability to simplify a scene so as to capture it quickly

I still get overwhelmed by the world around me, lacking the skill to see a scene on paper that reflects what I see but without extraneous details.


So with this as my motivation, and having agreed to be part of Marc’s project, I went out sketching.  The first day it was -14C, but it wasn’t very windy.  I set a timer and started drawing.  I think my timer is broken because the time passes far too quickly and my results were horrible.  But I know that early results are always horrible so I wasn’t put off by the results.  Here’s a couple of them.

The next day I was greeted by -20C and a bit of a breeze.  It was really cold.  I reminded myself that if Marc could do it, so could I.  I sketched.  I walked.  I sketched some more.

Then it turned cold(er).  When the temps were -22C and below reason kicked in and I stayed indoors.   We entered a series of days with snow, rain, and more cold, which led to ice, making walking impossible.  So I stayed inside some more.

Eventually the weather improved and I was back at it again.  I’d resolved to do 100 of these sketches.  My sketchbook was still moving around almost as much as my pen so there was a randomness in the line work.  Here are a couple more examples.

More days passed; more walking and sketching took place.  It was still frustrating but I noticed that my sketchbook was slowing down; it was becoming easier to keep up with it.

So far I’ve done 20 of these little scribbles.  When it’s not too cold, it’s even starting to be fun.  I’m beginning to think that by the time I get the 100th sketch done I may have made progress on all three of my goals.  In any case I’m getting to do some outdoor sketching and that’s a good thing.  Here are the last couple drawings I’ve done.  I think I’ve moved from doing horrible sketches to doing bad sketches.  I consider that a win.  I’ve quickly added quick bits of color to these to see how they’d look with color.  Extreme urban sketching is challenging but fun.