Sketching In My Front Yard

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.

The Family Tree Of Excavators

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.


Stillman & Birn Alpha (6×8), DeAtramentis Document Black.

Deer Sees Its Reflection

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


Ms Mouse, My Short-Lived Friend

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.

Ms Mouse

Stillman & Birn Alpha, DeAtramentis Document Black, Pilot Falcon, Daniel Smith watercolors

Sketching For No Reason

We’re all keen to tell newcomers that it’s “all about the process, not the product.”  And, we’re just as invested in being concerned that most newcomers find it difficult not to be concerned about the product.  But you know what?  The existence of the internet and all of the social infrastructure built around it by art groups, flies in the face of all that process, not product stuff.

Listen to nature journalists.  For them its all about “documenting” what they see, building a “record” of the places they go and coupled with it the “share it in our Facebook group” request.  I don’t know how many Facebook groups exist for the sole purpose of people displaying their work but it’s a lot.  And don’t even suggest those groups are social groups.  Facebook groups stopped being about talking a long time ago.  If you’re a member of these groups you will have experienced some bit of guilt if you haven’t posted sketches in them.  Ya gotta participate, right?  Heck, the Urban Sketchers require posting of your sketches if you’re going to call yourself an urban sketcher; it’s in the manifesto.  Any 30 day challenge or online workshop comes with a hashtag you’re supposed to use when you post your results.

Generally I think we see sharing sketches to be a good thing but it does change what we do and how we do it.  And I realized this morning that it has actually affected whether I feel productive (or not) as a sketcher.  I’ve mentioned a couple times recently that I haven’t been doing much sketching and this seems a direct response to not posting as much stuff.  I didn’t really realize this to be true.

But this morning was garbage day and so I emptied my studio garbage can and took it out to the recycling (it’s all sheets of paper).  For some unknown reason I thought about the bag in my hand and how it represented somewhere between 50 and 100 sheets of paper, each filled with scribbles and doodles, often on both sides of the paper.  It made me realize that I’m doing a LOT of sketching, though it’s done “for no reason” since it doesn’t appear on the internet.

Does that make any sense to anyone?  I don’t think so.  But I know I’m not alone in how the internet has changed how we make decisions and how we do our art.  It might be time to give a bit of thought to this, an introspection of sorts.  I know I’m going to ponder sketching for no reason and its virtues.

When I came in from the garbage trip I noticed these three sheets laying around on my desk.  Though they aren’t the most complete doodles, I thought they could illustrate what it means when I sketch for no reason.