Sketching The Past

Winter sketching, as I’m mentioned before, is confined my sketching to indoor venues.  That’s ok because there are museums, coffee shops, and librarys to provide sketching opportunities.  But what’s a guy supposed to do when he’s sitting at home and wants to draw?

Photos?  I’m not very good at drawing from photos as I don’t feel I can ‘see’ the same as when I’m actually on location.  It’s also not as much fun for me.  But that’s the choice that Mother Nature gives me so what the heck…photos it is.

What photos, though?  I’ve taken a lot of photos of Quebec City with the thought of using them as sketching material but it’s occurred to me that there may be better alternatives.  Why not sketch stuff I can’t see any more?  Dirigibles, Victorian hats, inkwells, carrier pigeons or steamships?  Or trains….that’s it…trains.

Our society decided we’d subsidize the trucking industry in the 50s and 60s by building a highway system which allowed that industry to outcompete the railroads, that had to maintain their own ‘roads.’   So, now we’ve got LOTS of trucks to draw, lots of trucks burning fuel, and the warehouses of our world have become 18-wheel diesel-powered boxes clogging up our highways.  Oh and we have far fewer trains.  So yeah, I could draw trains.

And what better place to start than with the lowly caboose.  As a kid, train watching was a big deal.  We’d wave at the engineer as the engine went by, hoping he’d blow the whistle for us.  Then we’d wait…and wait and finally, after a bunch of boxcars, tankcars, and hopper cars, here it would come…the CABOOSE…the crummy, the brain box, the dog house…whatever you called it – it was RED!  They were mostly eliminated from trains in the 1980s, replaced by “EOTs” (End Of Train device) which are boring boxes of electronics and a red light that get hung on the end of the train.  Kids don’t watch trains any more and I don’t blame them.  My daughter didn’t even know what a caboose was when I showed her my sketch.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x6) sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Lex Gray ink.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6) sketchbook, Pilot Prera, Lex Gray ink.

I sketched this one from a black and white photo in a book I own.  It was fun.  My daughter learned what a caboose was.  Maybe I’ll draw some other things she has never seen.

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

Pilot HiTec V5 (05) Cartridge Pen

This pen, the Pilot HiTec V5 cartridge pen, showed up at our local pen store recently.  I’m a fountain pen guy and wouldn’t have even noticed it if not for the display right next to it that held Pilot fountain pen cartridges.  For those who like nylon/felt-tip pens for sketching, but who also would like access to the range of colors available to fountain pen folk, may want to give this pen a try.


It’s available with either a .5 mm or .7 mm tip.  I bought the .5 mm and its line does compare to a Sakura Micron 05.  The ink density and color is similar too but with one very large difference.  Pilot inks are not waterproof.  This can be good or bad depending on what you’re going to do with the pen.

It made no difference to me as I bought it with the thought of seeing if I could use it with other inks, specifically, Noodler’s Lexington Gray which is my main sketching ink.  I emptied the cartridge and used an ear syringe to pressure a bunch of water through the feed/point to clean out the ink contained within.  This is a slightly bigger job than it would be with a fountain pen as the feed on these pens seems to hold a lot more ink.  Nevertheless, it only took a minute of two.

I filled the cartridge with Lexington Gray and once attached to the pen I squeezed the heck out of the cartridge to pump ink into the feed/point.  This would be easier if one were to use a Con-50 converter, which has a plunger that would pressure ink into the pen.  Nevertheless, in another minute or so I had Lex Gray coming out of the pen.  Refilling, of course, is quick as I just pull the cartridge and use a pen syringe to refill it.


My concern was that the pen would dry/plug up so I waited to write this until I’d had the Lex Gray in the pen for a week or so.  While walking through a local park, I made this little sketch of one of my favorite subjects, a park trashcan.  Done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6),I was impressed by how the pen performed.

I paid $3 for mine so this pen isn’t a bank breaker and it does open up interesting possibilities for those who prefer felt-tip pens


Samurai – The Continuing Saga Of The Urban Sketcher

The last few days have been stormy here.  High winds, snow, and general ugliness.  No big deal except that I haven’t been able to follow my normal walking regime.  With mild desperation to right that wrong, I trudged off today, or rather I was slipping and sliding down the sidewalks.  I was jumping mounds of snow, walking on water…well, really just in it.  After an hour of this joyous adventure I found myself at the Musee de la Civilisations, my winter haunt.

I sketched only one Samurai helmet today, though.  This one was a bit more challenging, with all its fire ornamentation and besides, I had another hour of slipping and sliding to get home.  It was fun anyways and while I’m beat from the walk, it was a very satisfying day.  I think, though, that I’m going to sit and sketch for a while.


The sketch was done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (5.5×8.5), which is becoming my museum sketchbook.  I used a Pilot Prera and Lex Gray.  The color comes from Faber-Castell “Albrecht Durer” watercolor pencils, mushed around with a waterbrush.  This is an approach that fits the museum world and works for me, though I’m still learning how and what to do with them.