Quantity Your Way To Success In Sketching

You don’t have to look far to find some experienced artist telling you that the way to become good at sketching is to carry a sketchbook with you at all times and sketch whenever you have a few minutes.  It’s a message that, sadly, seems to fall on deaf ears for most people.

I think I know why.  We’ve all grown up thinking that “art” is something you hang on a wall.  We’ve been taught that “do your best” is a good thing and when it comes to art this translates to “gotta do something significant” or some such sentiment.  Whatever it is, this view causes most sketchers to sketch only “when they have time”, which translates directly into “not very darn often.”

And here’s the secret behind all the advice that experienced artist give about sketching constantly.  That’s how they got good!!!  Like it or not, you learn to draw by drawing.  No class will make you good.  No instructor can make you good.  No fancy tools will make you good.  The most these things can do is provide you with is help you get the most from that associate piece of advice – practice, practice, practice.

I thought I’d share a couple incidental sketches I did, where I was, and what I was doing as a practical example of how to fit sketching into a busy schedule.  You see, I had an appointment to be interviewed as part of the Canadian citizenship process.  Yep, I’m becoming Canadian (yippee!).  Anyways, I arrived at the site of the interview about 15 minutes early.  With nothing to do, I went into a coffee shop and ordered a cup.  I could have just sat and drunk my coffee.  I could have paged through innane Facebook posts on my cell phone.  Or I could sketch.

Because I was traveling light, I had only the pen (Pilot Prera), a waterbrush with dilute brown ink, and small sketchbook I carry in my coat pocket.  I got it out and started a quick sketch of the barista area of the coffee shop.  I had less than 10 minutes before my interview which was on the 2nd floor of the building next door, and I had to drink my coffee too.  Nevertheless, I did this small sketch of the area.

2016-02-25interviewdayI had to stop sketching so I could get to the interview.  When I arrived I found 50 or so people there ahead of me.  Oh no…maybe an 8 AM appointment didn’t mean what I thought it meant.  I sat down at the back of the room, a bit glum and expecting a long wait.  Oh well, there were a bunch of sketching targets available so I got out my sketchbook.  I started sketching a woman in the row in front of me.  I was, maybe, a minute into this sketch…

2016-02-25interviewday2…when a guy came out of a room.  He read off a few names, including mine, and told everyone else to head into the “examination room.”  All my potential sketching subjects got up and filed into the room to take an examination to see if they knew who the first Prime Minister was, who the current Prime Minister was, and whether they knew what the heck a constitutional monarchy was.  You see, if you’re old, and filing for citizenship, they realize you’re not smart enough to be taking exams so I was exempted from that exercise.

I added a few lines to the sketch before a woman came out and called my name.  I was being called for my interview.   So, two sketches, done during time frames that most wouldn’t consider as a ‘sketching session.’  You’re right; these sketches are not great.  But they were both fun and good practice.  This is what all those experienced artists are talking about.  Fill your hurry up and wait time with little sketching sessions and when you do get more time to sketch, you’ll be better at it because you did those little sketches.

And what have you got to lose – that you’ll never be bored waiting for an interview?  Oh, and the interview went well. The only thing between me and citizenship is the swearing in ceremony.  I even got to tell them that I was a sketcher (grin).


Clowning Around With Thursday Sketchers

We were back at it on Thursday, as we met at the museum to sketch.  Winter may drive us indoors but it doesn’t slow us down much.

clown toy

Canson XL watercolor, Pilot Prera, DeAtramentis Document Brown

I found this little, three-inch high clown sitting in the bottom of a small display of early children’s toys.  His right foot was missing but I made one up.  He was lots of fun to draw.


Canson XL watercolor, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black

This lantern was nearly invisible and I have to wonder if it’s a forgotten exhibit.  It was hanging on a dark wall, in the dark and it was black.  Hard to see but it whispered ‘sketch me’ as I walked past.  And so I did, or tried.

When I finished Claudette and Lisette were chatting, making plans to have tea and while they were packing up I did this quick sketch of a top hat in the case where we were standing.  Then we headed for tea and had a great discussion about the value of sketching whenever we have a few idle minutes.

top hat

Canson XL multi-media, Platinum 3776, Platinum Carbon Black


Love Me Some Harpsichord

I’m as close to a musical know-nothing as you can get but I really enjoy most classical music.  Spare me the Schoenberg’s 12-tone scales and other modern attempts at cacophony but the rest is great.  Sadly, I’m so ignorant of music that I can’t identify composers by ear, and can’t wax eloquently about how Beethoven’s 9th is such a great piece because…  I just listen.

And so for me, it’s more about particular instruments.  I love cello music of all kinds.  I think classical guitar is sublime.  But give me Bach played on a harpsichord and I am enthralled.  So it was exciting for me to show up at the chapel for draw-the-carving session to find a guy practicing harpsichord.  What could be better than listening to harpsichord music while sketching?  Maybe sketching a harpsichordist while listening to harpsichord music and that’s just what I did.  Unfortunately, when I finished I had to run off to the Musee de la Civilisation where there would be dancers to sketch.  More on that tomorrow.

chapel harpsichord

Canson XL watercolor paper, Pilot Prera, DeAtramentis Brown (and black)


Urban Sketcher Goes Rogue

I’m an urban sketcher, or at least almost everything I draw is done ‘on location’ – drawing what I see.  I’ve not be too interested in ‘expressive’ or abstract drawing.  I’m not into adult coloring books.  I just draw stuff and wandering my city looking for things to draw is part of my equation.

But it’s winter here in Quebec and while it’s amazingly warm for us at the beginning of February our high temps are still in the -10 range so sketching on the street, my usual location, isn’t really practical.  I know that Nina Johansson uses vodka so her paints don’t freeze but I’m an old Arizona boy and I’d have to consume a lot of vodka to keep myself from freezing.

And so, this is the time of year when I start drawing people in coffee shops, restaurants and at the library.  This is a time when I draw in our museums.  This is the time of year when I’ll draw the occasional cast drawing in an attempt to improve my ability to see halftones and to render objects.

One thing I’ve never done in art was to make stuff up.  I’ve done it as a writer but I haven’t felt that I had sufficient handle on form, light and shade, and the rest to conjour drawings from my memory.  Yvan keeps telling me that I should develop that ability as it helps so much when drawing on location but, well, I haven’t done so.

Until yesterday.  I was playing with creating some watercolor backgrounds for doing ink sketches on to of them and when my brain looked at the bright Quin Gold blob I’d put in the middle, I saw a ‘tall mountain island fortress’ and so I started drawing.  It was a feeble effort, but an effort nonetheless, to draw something from my imagination.  I had fun and will probably do this some more.


News Flash: Sobab Coffee Takes On High-Price Coffee Vendors

Remember when buying coffee meant digging out a coin or two?  Ever since Starbucks convinced people that coffee was more about being empowered to make infinite choices than drinking something brown and warm, we’ve been forced to pay ridiculous amounts of money for a cup of coffee.

And it’s clear that there are high margins from this business model.  Not only is there a Starbucks on every corner, every third store up and down the block is a coffee house.  The choices are endless, at least if ‘choice’ means choosing who is going to charge you a lot for a cup of coffee.

2015-10-24sobabNot so any more, at least not in Quebec City.  I walk down 3rd Avenue regularly and drop into the Brulerie to do quick-sketches of the people and get a ‘cuppa’ as Liz Steel is fond of saying.  I can expect to leave $3-4 lighter every time.  But across the street is a new place, Sobab’s.   I was out walking and decided to give it a try.

I only had a few minutes as I ordered a café au lait.  I was asked whether I wanted a small or a large and I chose large.  If you’re going to splurge on high-priced stuff, you might as well go all the way.  Time to pay.  Should I break a twenty?  Probably have to.  “That’ll be $1.50,” she said.  Huh?  I handed her a 2-dollar coin and dumped the change in the tip jar.

I sat down and, still in pleasant price shock, I scribbled out this little sketch of part of the counter area.  The coffee was good.  It was cheap, and a steady stream of people seemed to know all about it.  As I enjoyed my coffee I did some quick sketches of people ordering their own inexpensive coffee.

All sketches done in a Field Notes notebook using a Pilot Prera and De Atramentis Document Brown ink

All sketches done in a Field Notes notebook using a Pilot Prera and De Atramentis Document Brown ink