It’s been fairly obvious from my lack of posting and my comments that I’ve been lacking inspiration. That it’s still too cold to sketch outdoors hasn’t helped but the problem has been more basic than that.
So how can it be that I woke up this morning chomping at the bit to do material prep and to draw? It came from this past weekend when Laurel and Marc Holmes stopped to visit. Two of the best people I know, we had a great time, mostly while sitting and talking.
The idea was to sketch together and we did that, but not much. We bumped into two problems. The first was cold and windy weather that made sketching outdoors almost painful. From the looks of things, outdoor sketching is a couple weeks away for me.
The other problem was the Museum of Civilization here in Quebec City. Pre-pandemic this was my go to place to sketch when weather was bad because it was always full of stuff to sketch. I hadn’t been there since 2019 but it seemed like a good solution to our dilemma. I spent a bunch of money to renew my membership and Marc and Laurel spent a lot of money on tickets. We all wasted it.
You know those movies where someone returns to a place of fond memories only to find it devastated or inhabited by zombies? That was how I felt. The bedrock of this museum has always been two large permanent exhibits and four large exposition halls where expositions came and went, always providing good stuff to draw. What we faced were three of those halls permanently empty and one of the permanent exhibits gutted and closed off. What remained was horrible. The “big” exhibit was a historical presentation of a famous Quebec politician but it was just a bunch of large photos of him and a few trinkets from his life. There was very little to draw. And so I got to enjoy Laurel and Marc while sitting in restaurants or the drawing room of their B&B. And while I’m sure they were disappointed, I thoroughly enjoyed their presence and our discussions.
Marc showed me a bunch of 5×5 direct watercolors he’d done during the excursion they were returning from and they really excited me. I couldn’t think of much else. I’ve got to learn this approach to “sketching” (when Marc does it the results need to be framed and hung on a wall) and I’ve commited to doing his annual 30 paintings in 30 days event that starts in June. Hopefully I can figure out how to do it before then.
Here are a couple sketches that I did in our empty museum.
This summer I’ve fallen in love with sketching Chantal’s flowers. Why? Cuz they’re beautiful, plentiful, and available. But another reason is that they really help me hone the connection between my visual and motor cortex. Some call this hand-eye coordination but there are no hands or eyes being trained here. It’s all hind brain doing the work and the trick is to get this to happen without interference from the forebrain, be it left or right forebrain. When artists say “get the brain out of the way,” this is what they mean whether they realize it or not.
Anyway, I spent a bunch of time “in the zone” drawing these black-eyed susans, locating them relative to one another. During most of it I was “unavailable” to anyone walking by. In the end I was both exhausted and exhilarated. I think I got most of it right. The leaves are not accurate. I used lines representing some leaves to locate the flowers but otherwise the leaves were a by guess and by golly venture. Hope you like it.
This year has been an odd one, with lots more rain than usual and very high temperatures with jacket days interspersed. Our flowering plants have put on quite a show as a result but at the same time, insects have been scarce. I’ve seen a single Monarch but no other butterflies. No mosquitos, one moth, a few flies, but nothing like a typical Quebec summer cadre of insects. And NO spiders. I typically get to play with small jumping spiders and we normally end up with a bunch of web-building Theridids around our yard. Not this year.
But one species that comes and goes like clockwork are the excavators. These huge yellow and orange beasts trundle around Quebec City like they own the place, digging holes here and there, dragging a stream of orange traffic barrels in their wake. They show up ever spring. They start to die out when it turns cold.
As a biologist I’m always interested in the life cycles of organisms and excavators are no exception. The adult shown above is a prime example of the type. I drew this one several years ago and confess that anyone who believes urban sketching should be done quickly would take offense to the couple hours I spent drawing this one. There are several things to note beyond their overall size. First, its feet are huge as are its muddy footprints. Second, its head is sized to hold a single human and its small relative to its huge, elongated body that swings a long beak here and there.
While walking on my river, I came across a baby excavator. It was hiding next to an apartment building being built along my river. You can immediately see that it’s an infant. Notice how large its head is relative to its body. Its body is short and pudgy and its feet aren’t as developed as the adult versions. If you see these little guys operate you’ll notice it bouncing around and rocking back and forth, unlike the adults who move steadily. I wonder if they simply grow larger with age or maybe there’s a metamorphosis that takes place, maybe during the winter season. More study is required.
I live not far from Quebec City’s exposition center, which is convenient because there’s a farmer’s market, park area, and a large activity area associated with it. There’s also a very large statue. It stands 30-40 feet high and represents, I think, a deer, walking across ice. The deer is looking down and its reflection is depicted by a white version of itself. It’s pretty impressive.
I decided to draw it and I found it more difficult than it looks. The reason is that it’s an animal with four spindly legs balanced upon a second, upside down set of spindly legs. Clearly, if I got the angles of those thin legs wrong, my sketch would look like it was falling over. Not having the mass of the top animal balanced on those legs would, of course, have the same result.
So, I spent probably half an hour just triangulating all the points, getting the proportions figured out, and the result was a whole bunch of lines and dots that didn’t look like much. Drawing it was easier and while painting always reveals my poor brush work, that wasn’t too bad either. The one thing I regret was that I didn’t do it larger (sketch is only 6″ high).
Stillman & BIrn Nova Gray, pencil, Daniel Smith Watercolors
The beauty of nature comes in many forms. In the last week or so I’ve found three mice that have succumbed to the rigors of summer. I don’t know if this was because of the stifling heat and humidity or not but that’s my guess.
In any case, I tried to have a conversation with this one, Ms Mouse. As I drew her she didn’t have much to say but she was a very cooperative model and didn’t move at all. Her peacefulness spoke volumes though.
Stillman & Birn Alpha, DeAtramentis Document Black, Pilot Falcon, Daniel Smith watercolors