Friday, 23 February 2018

Arizona pricklies

Sitting outside drawing plants is very pleasant when it isn't too cold, wet, hot, windy, dark, buggy, noisy or otherwise uncomfortable.  Which it wasn't in the Arizona desert in the winter.

This is a saguaro, the unmistakeable icon of the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona and northern Mexico.  I think they would be perfect for a beginner's life drawing course.

Cholla species come in a variety of forms, each one nastier than the next, at least if you walk into one.  The staghorn species is a pleasant purplish colour, with interesting fruits that stay around for a long time.  But beware the teddy bear - it's the nastiest of all.

Barrel cactuses have the curious habit of leaning towards the south - convenient if you happen to be lost in the desert when it is too cloudy to see the sun and too foggy to see any mountains.  Which is fairly unlikely.  Apparently the number one natural cause of death of barrel cactuses is falling over.  The evolutionary advantage of this is a bit obscure.

And finally, one wannabe cactus, the ocotillo.  This shrub mostly stands around looking like 10-foot-tall dead sticks, until there's enough rain for it to produce little leaves for a few weeks.  It's thorns are a little less deadly than cactuses', but still not the sort of thing to bush-whack through.  It was the only thing flowering in the desert in February, but it was doing so in a spectacular way.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Arizona - quick scenes

I got to spend a 5-day weekend - my company is thinking of making those standard policy - in the Tucson Arizona area as an "accompanying person".  The winter weather is perfect for us northeners, for hiking in the desert, bird-watching and desert botanizing.  With, of course, a few quick sketches along the way.

First, a brief stopover in the Los Angeles airport on the way down: 10 minutes to try to catch the spectacularly southern-California colours at dusk.

Finger Rock Canyon was just down the road from where we stayed on the outskirts of Tucson.  It's one of those devious walks that makes you want to check out what is just over the next bump, or just around the next point, until you find you've climbed the entire mountain and are left wondering if your legs will survive the trip down.  The rock strata are all tilted appealingly, and that day the clouds were marching along in parallel.

Kartchner Cavern is about an hour out of Tucson, and is one of the wonders of Arizona. (It would be the wonder, if it wasn't for that little canyon thingee in the north of the state).  You clearly enter a different planet, if not an entirely different universe, when the guides escort you underground through the multiple entry doors.  The level of concern for protecting the cave environment is wonderful, and that includes not allowing any objects into the cave - no cameras, phones or even sketchbooks.  If I had had a sketchbook, I would have been far too awestruck to use it anyway.  But I did get a quick sketch of the surrounding countryside while waiting for our tour.

I hiked in Sabino Canyon park on US President's Day, when entry was free and there were at least a thousand people in the park.  But with recent rains, Sabino Creek was high enough that it took some agile rock-hopping to cross, and I ended up seeing all of two other people on the far side of the creek.  It was a blustery day, with clouds flying by in the wind, and my paints almost flying into the creek at one point.

The city itself would be great for sketching if you lived there and found all the little details of urban life in a gritty desert environment.  Or if you really liked suburbs and shopping malls.  But it was challenging to find anything definitive to capture the place in my quick fly-by tour of the downtown area.  I settled on a cheerful and fairly humble "mansion" in the small area of the El Presidio neighbourhood that retains some of the older buildings in this not-very-old city.  The Cheyney mansion from 1905 is not quite as wobbly as I drew it - I blame a strong and surprisingly cold wind, and the incessant roar of fighter planes flying over the whole time for adding a bit of hurried "looseness".

Thursday, 11 January 2018

I'm on Instagram

I have been assimilated - I'm on Instagram.  It's easier to post miscellaneous drawings there.  And I know that someone other than Russian hackers and Chinese search engines are seeing my drawings.  But I'll continue to post here, especially for things that require more than a square picture taken with a poor camera phone.  Instagrammers can find me @dave.huggard.drawing.  For others, try

Monday, 1 January 2018

A Dozen Drawing-A-Day's

I started a 30-day drawing-a-day plan two weeks ago, figuring that I could get some drawing momentum built up over the holidays and continue it into the New Year.  So far, so good.  Doing a drawing (or more) a day lets me experiment more.  If it turns out horribly, as some do, well, there's always tomorrow.  These are ones that I like - a mix of outdoors (with a couple of ice-colour paintings included) and things I found to draw indoors on the worst days, or when it was 10p.m. and I hadn't done the day's drawing yet.

Get it done before the sun is even up:

Christmas ornaments are perfect models:

Five-minute portraits on the seabus.  All praise to beards - you get a lot of chances to get the chin right!

The ski-and-sketches.  Some nice ice crystal development in a couple of these.  The background trees in the last one were painted using the big wet snowflakes that were rapidly covering the page, instead of water.

Details of warm interiors, as heavy sleet or dusk fell outside.

A more abstracted view of the first morning sunbeams in the dawn forest.

And finally this fellow - a snow-covered sapling, or the ghost of one of the early Hollyburn pioneers?

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Ice-colour painting - endangered?

The challenges of using watercolours outside when it is below freezing are well rewarded by, umm... trying to capture details with frozen-solid brushes? blotchy skies? frostbitten fingers? Well, maybe a unique style, a sharper appreciation for working quickly, and definitely a memorable experience.  This is a good example from early November, when it was about -6C on Hollyburn peak.  You can see some nice crystalization in the sky and mountains.
But my recent attempts have failed - it just hasn't been cold enough.  This one from the Hollyburn cross-country area as the clouds rolled in was close, just below 0C, but not quite enough to freeze the paint.

Even Edmonton, on the last day of November - this should be the world centre for ice-colour painting - came in well above freezing as I drew the river from a pedestrian bridge.

And back on Hollyburn Peak, mid-December now, it was a sunny +9C with a warm breeze, in a strong inversion that was blanketing Vancouver below in fog.  It was so warm that I skied up the rapidly melting (but still deep) snow in a short-sleeved shirt, and people on the peak were dancing around in their underwear.  (There are still a few eccentric and exuberant people left in this age of internet shaming).  I am wondering if the days of ice-colour painting are numbered...

Monday, 4 December 2017

Dr Sketchy has a birthday

It was party night at Dr Sketchy's on Sunday (as if it isn't always party night at Dr Sketchy's), celebrating a ninth birthday, all hosted by the beloved Shari Contrary.  The model was the same one who started it all - before my time - the lovely and talented Melody Mangler.  Food, beer, music, lively company, Ms Mangler, and lots of drawing - it's hard to think what else you could want for a birthday.  I'm just a bit leery about what will happen when Dr S  hits those awkward teenage years...

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Polygon Gallery

The Polygon Gallery opened this weekend on the waterfront in North Vancouver.  It is a major upgrade on the old Presentation House gallery, retaining the focus on photography.  The building is interesting architecturally, with a glass-walled lower floor and the gallery upstairs, where a series of triangular roofs give a visual nod to the North Shore mountains while letting in natural light from the north.  A second-floor atrium and balcony give views of Lonsdale Quay, the harbour and the city of Vancouver.  Most importantly, the building provides a beautiful space for the art, without shouting "Look at me, I was designed by an architect!"  In a place where we often sit around lamenting better things that have been replaced by condominiums, I think the gallery will be a very positive addition to the city.  Here is my quick "wet-on-wet-in-wet" impression (it was pouring rain).

The opening exhibition focuses on North Vancouver, with an appealing mix of photographs - some historical, some from the contemporary photographers that Vancouver is most famous for in the international art world - and sculptures and weaving, much of it from local First Nations artists.  A huge light-box photo by Rodney Graham is one of my favourite local art works.  It's visually very attractive, and has layer-upon-layer of interpretations (at least, I think so - I don't know what the "official" story is!)

The sculptures are a happy addition for sketchers, more fun to draw than trying to make a picture of a picture.  I was joined by a couple of knee-high future artists drawing Gabrielle L'Hirondelle Hill's quirky piece made from parts found in the historical shipyards nearby.  And I appreciated Cameron Kerr's large yellow-cedar sculpture representing a central element of North Vancouver culture - a bridge on the highway.