Sketching the Past – episode 2

Recently I posted a sketch I’d done of a caboose, done from a photograph taken when cabooses were part of our landscape.  In that post I floated the idea that if I was going to be forced to sketch from photos by winter, that maybe I should sketch things that used to be part of our landscape but that have largely disappeared.

Well, never say stuff if you don’t mean it.  My sketching buddies, Fernande and Claudette picked up on the idea and said, “You should sketch a bee-douze“, and I said, “Huh?”

They were surprised that I didn’t know what a “bee-douze” was even though they know my French isn’t very good.  It wasn’t a French problem, however.  “Bee-douze” is simply “B-twelve” in English but I still had no idea what they were talking about and I don’t think a lot of Francophones would know either.  But Fernande and Claudette both grew up in a part of Quebec called “La Gaspesie”, a rural part of the province.  They were taken to school in a “bee-douze” when winter snows prevented alternative transportation.

And you know what?  The B-12 is an important part of our technological history as it was a big money-maker for a company called Bombardier who invented snowmobiles and who are now one of the world’s largest suppliers of modern passenger train cars and executive jets.  Oh, and they still make snowmobiles via their recreational vehicle division called Ski-Doo.  Maybe you’ve heard of it.

The B12 gets its name from the fact that it could zip along above the snow, carrying 12 people.  Not the prettiest vehicle ever built, it gets high marks for its unique, almost Flash-Gordon-like round windows and teardrop shape.  I had fun drawing this one.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9x6), Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon ink

Stillman & Birn Alpha (9×6), Pilot Prera, Platinum Carbon ink

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.