Tuesday, 24 December 2013


The sun is heading back this way, ever so slightly, day-by-day, following winter solstice.  Yesterday it set just south of the chimney on the school in the next block, from the vantage of our back deck - definitely on the "S"-for-South side of the school's old weathervane.  I'm waiting to see when the sun lines up exactly with the dome, which will undoubtedly be a moment of immense cosmic significance - why else would our deck and their dome have been built in exactly those locations?

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Flower shop at Lonsdale Quay

Lots of flowers were being sold this afternoon at the flower shop at Lonsdale Quay, but not the poinsettias or big purple orchids that were displayed so prominently.  Which made me wonder what happens to all those expensive flowers if they aren't sold for Christmas.  Hopefully they get sent to a nice poinsettia-and-orchid retirement home somewhere in the tropics.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

33 Acres brewery

33 Acres is one of the newer entrants in the burgeoning microbrewery scene in Vancouver.  You can tell they are new, because the brewer's beard isn't very bushy at all.  Long-established brewers have really really bushy beards.  Twenty of us met there to draw-drink their two brews - a WCPA (West Coast version of an IPA) and a California common, which I had to Google to find that it is a dark "steamed" lager, meaning that it is brewed with lager yeast but at higher ale temperatures.  Both were very tasty, and came in small enough glasses that my perspective was only slightly messed up in the sketch.  More importantly, the common was a nice, very paintable red-amber shade of brown.  I contrast this with a "Belgian black ale" that I recently drew-drank - a cooler, much greyer hue of brown.  Maybe I should start a website combining RateBeer and UrbanSketchers --> SketchBeer? 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Vancouver library atrium

The urban sketchers met in the atrium of the Vancouver library, a good choice on a below-freezing day - cold enough in the unheated space that I felt tough drawing there, but not so cold that my paint froze.  The building is in the ruined-coliseum style.  The curving walls in the atrium between the main library and the outer part of the building, and the reflecting glass, made for challenging draftsmanship, but it was a cheerful scene with the office building glowing in the sun against the Vancouver-blue sky through the glass roof.  A book sale in the atrium was drawing a crowd, with popular favourites like An Economic Analysis of the Coal Industry in Victorian England.  There were a number of interesting characters in the area, and not just the sketchers...

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Ariel Helvetica at Dr Sketchy's

About ten people from the Urban Sketchers meet-up group went to Dr. Sketchy's on Sunday, where Ariel Helvetica was the model.  She started out with quite a few serifs, but ended up mainly sans.
     The drawing with Christmas baubles won the competition for the coveted Dr. Sketchy pencil prize.  Now I can have an "Awards" section on my artistic CV.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Charles Edenshaw and Kimsooja at VAG

I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery last Saturday by accident - or, more precisely, to avoid an accident.  I was riding home from Granville Island, rapidly, in the (awesome) dedicated bike lane on Hornby St, when two city workers carefully looked at me approaching, then stepped right in front of me with a traffic barricade.  I swerved to avoid crashing through them, then swerved to avoid a pedestrian, and ended up pretty much at the gallery entrance.  Figuring that it wasn't safe to cycle in Vancouver at that moment, in I went.  I hadn't been inspired enough by the publicity for the current exhibitions to bother going before, but I'm glad I did.
The main exhibit was work by Charles Edenshaw, a Haida carver from the turn of the previous century.  We see a lot of coastal native wood-carving here, and it is all so well done that we get a bit blase.  But his work really stood out for the fine detail of the work, and the variety of media - some wood, but lots of argyllite (a fine-textured ebony black claystone), silver, gold and ivory, as well as paintings and drawings on paper and woven hats and baskets.  It's powerful to see the various Haida motifs repeated in the different media.  It was really an excellent exhibit, and worth a repeat visit.
The other exhibit I saw was by Kimsooja, a contemporary Korean artist, who works with textiles and video.  Normally, neither would be high on my favourites list, but the textile work was appealing at first because of its exuberance, and then because it was thought-provoking in subtle ways.  But it was her large-scale, multi-screen videos that were most entrancing - again, worth the price of admission (especially if you have a membership and it's free).
I like to draw in galleries, because it makes me look at a few works carefully and makes a much richer experience.  Sometimes I feel like a bit of a lunatic, sketching in front of one piece for several minutes, while everyone else spends their average 3.5 seconds and rushes on (now that I think about it, that was a theme in Kimsooja's video installations).  But this Saturday there was a huge crowd of fellow sketching lunatics.  It was Family Day so admittedly all the other sketchers were knee-high, but sometimes it's good to just be the biggest lunatic, not the only one.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Granville Island

Urban Sketchers met at Granville Island on one of those clear cold days when you understand why people worship the sun.  Unfortunately aesthetic pickiness overruled thermoregulatory common-sense for me, so I sat in the shade to draw.  I'm sure my extremities will thaw in the spring.
In the first view, the composition of the dock and pilings, and the background were the attraction.  The Vancouver "City of Glass" sometimes seems like the architectural equivalent of a monoculture, but today the blue glass against the blue sky had more of a feel of an airy mythical city in the sky.  The second little vignette is the buffer to stop boats from running into the base of the Granville Street bridge.  It has a definite jerry-built look to it.  It was catching a stray sunbeam that navigated through various structures to get there, illuminating the plants and algae that have colonized the structure.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Dark rainy November in Vancouver

Everybody knows that November in Vancouver is cold, rainy and dark.  It's a main reason that embarrassed citizens of a certain large city in central Canada don't all flee here.  But fortunately, like many things that everyone knows, it's not true.  Or at least, not completely true.  Below are 6 drawings from Vancouver in the middle of November:
November 11, warm and sunny, thankfully for the remaining vets who didn't have to stand in a freezing drizzle. 

November 12, socked in rainy, until just before sunset, when the sun dropped below the clouds and lit up the whole world in a way that makes you forget the rest of the day.  I call this a "redemption sky", used with exactly that meaning in the play Life After God by Michael MacLennan and Douglas Coupland, set right here on the North Shore.  It happens a lot, as it often clears up first over the ocean to the west.

November 13. Sunny, calm morning at the local tidal flats (although I had a bit of a Hitchcock moment when I looked up to realize 50 crows had flown silently into the tree right behind me as I drew.  They had a hungry look...)

November 14 was a draw-inside day, and November 15 was mostly worse.  But with a house that colour, who needs sunshine?

November 16 and 17 were cold and overcast but not raining for the East Vancouver Culture Crawl, which I modified on the Sunday into the West Vancouver Swamp Crawl, because of a reported rare bird.  It was a no-show, but I actually like standing around in swamps, amusing the local chickadees and passing soccer moms who all thought I was daft.

November 18 was bit forgettable, but today was sparkling clear, with a cold dry northern wind - perfect for a quick sketch of the view from the shelter of the front porch.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

1000 Parker Street

It is the East Vancouver Culture Crawl this weekend, with hundreds of open studios.  The building at 1000 Parker Street is the biggest, with over 100 artists.  The building itself is a prime attraction, an old mattress factory (so I overheard today) with an ancient elevator, equally ancient plumbing and slightly less ancient wiring.  Normal laws of geometry don't apply there - you can walk in a straight line and end up where you started, or go down a flight of stairs and come out on the top floor.  As I sketched amid the throngs in the hallways, 50% of conversations were navigational in nature ("Haven't we been down this hall before?", "Is the main floor up or down?", "She's your kid, you go find her."), 40% involved fire exits, the sprinkler system or earthquakes, and 10% were about art/food/washrooms/lost poodles.  With all the sketching, I forgot to look at the art, so I'll have to go back tomorrow (unless tomorrow ends up being last Thursday, which might just happen at 1000 Parker Street.)

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

North Shore birding spots

 Two places to bird-watch on the North Shore, and two reasons for bird-watching: 1) A good excuse to get out on a beautiful day and not really do anything.  2) To see an exciting bird!  Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver was the bright sunny spot for lounging on the construction-debris-landfill beach on Sunday, with a view to the north and the recently snow-topped mountains.  Ambleside pond in West Vancouver had the exciting bird - a Harris's sparrow, which was a "lifer" for me today (#1201, if you care...).  They breed at treeline in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, and winter in Texas and thereabouts, so they are rare visitors to the West Coast, worth the short ride from home on a cold damp day.  (Even worth withstanding the onslaught of off-leash dogs at the park - I love dogs, but I also enjoy the occasional dog-free moment, which was notably absent this morning.)  The lovely creature itself is at the bottom, looking like it was drawn from a photograph, which it was.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Ballet BC practice

We had the great privilege today of drawing at a Ballet BC practice session, courtesy of our Urban Sketchers leader Sigrid, who seems to be remarkably well-connected (first a maker of habitable dumpsters, now a professional ballet-dancer - maybe she knows a couple Vancouver Canucks too?)  My previous knowledge of ballet involved a niece's recital and Edgar Degas, so I didn't know what to expect, but I was completely overwhelmed by the intensity of their morning workout.  After a few minutes of stretching and warming up, they spent 45 working at the barre, with an instructor giving a detailed set of instructions at three times normal human speed and exactly in time with the rhythm of the dance - imagine someone rapping to Tchaikovsky - then a pianist in the corner played music that went with the instruction as the dancers all went through the moves.  And then another, and another, and another.  Then 45 minutes of dances on the floor, again with a complicated high-speed set of instructions to start each one.  You kind of expect grace and beauty from professional dancers - even in their sweats - but I was in awe of the physical strength and energy that went with it, let alone the concentration it all requires.  Sometimes I see professionals in some field, like hockey players, and I think "They're doing the same things I can do, they're just vastly better at it".  But in other cases, like improvising musicians or, now, ballet dancers, I think "The laws of my universe clearly do not apply to these people."
     The pictures below are: warm-up, work at the barre, dances on the floor (if some of them look like they are doing disco moves, that's the sketcher's fault, not the dancers') and how-many-dancers-can-I-draw-and-paint-in-the-last-5-minutes?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Hollyburn hitzefrei

The two things I remember from high-school German are: "Mit eine Perucke ist mann ein anders Mensch"  and "Hitzefrei".  The first phrase has been of somewhat limited practical use in my life ("With a wig, one is a different person.")   But the second is a different story.  "Hitzefrei" is a holiday that the civilized German people grant their children when it is too hot for school.  I've extended this excellent concept to a holiday declared anytime it is too nice to work, even, say, on a crisp clear fall day, ideal skiing conditions, the first sunny day in spring, etc. This afternoon was definitely a hitzefrei, so I hiked up Hollyburn Mountain with my sketchpad and paints, motivated especially by the clouds gathering on the western horizon.  The ponds and shaded ground were frozen, so I'm guessing that today will be the last snow-free day there until sometime next June - I always try to get out hiking on that day.  There's something a bit exhilarating about walking down a trail as the sun sinks behind the trees and the snow-clouds start to gather on the last fall day in the mountains.  The Germans probably have a word for that, too.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Reiffel Bird Sanctuary

The urban sketching group met at Reiffel Bird Sanctuary, south of Vancouver.  It's a mix of ponds, tidal marshes, meadows, brushy areas and a bit of forest - not exactly an urban environment, but it does have the population of a small city on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  That's especially true now that the snow geese are back from the north, at least a thousand of them putting on a show in the immediate vicinity, along with 10 Sandhill cranes, even more mallards than people, and sundry other creatures enjoying the sun.  I myself was considered a sundry enough creature to be photographed by at least 10 people as I drew and painted along the pathways.
     Westham Island outside the reserve was also hopping with people, many of them picking pumpkins.  I had never realized how easy it is to paint pumpkins - now that I know, I'm going to add them to all my pictures.


Friday, 25 October 2013

Recent life drawings

Three life drawings from the last couple weeks.  The first has 5-minute poses of the energetic model drawn with compressed charcoal on mylar.  The translucent mylar show some 3-minute poses in pen and watercolour underneath.  The next is a 15-minute pose done in compressed charcoal on paper.  And the third is a 20-minute pose in compressed charcoal on mylar.  Twenty minutes is a bit short for a portrait; it doesn't look much like the model.  (Or maybe I should say "It doesn't look much like the model physically."  That makes it sound like I was trying to capture something deeper than mere physical likeness...)

Monday, 21 October 2013

A foggy fall

There have been no little cat feet involved in the fog we're having this week.  It came in more like a herd of elephants, about the same colour and just as heavy.  But then late this afternoon the sun broke through, miraculously quickly and completely.  I ran out to the boulevard with my sketchbook and watercolours (then ran back home to get water - a fairly important part of watercolouring.  I'll get this outdoor sketching thing figured out sometime).  It was spectacular.  I felt like people must have felt in the 1930's when they invented colour.  Fortunately I did a quick 20 minute sketch, because by the time I got home, the fog was returning out of thin air (literally, I suppose).  The top of the school a block away disappeared as I drew it, and now all the neighbours' houses are gone too.  Which isn't such a bad thing, really...

Friday, 11 October 2013

Edmonton views

I was in Edmonton a couple times in the last two weeks.  It was nice fall weather, and I was on the top floor of the hotel both times, so great views.  It was still getting light early enough that I could do some drawing and painting before heading off to all those very important meetings in windowless rooms that occupy most of the daylight hours.  The first drawing is pen one morning and watercolour the next.  I was going to do that again on the second trip, but the sunrise further to the east was too spectacular (and fleeting) to resist on the second day. Even with just two weeks, there was a lot less time for drawing between dawn and off-to-meetings on the second trip.  Pretty soon the days will be short enough that it will be dark going into the meetings and dark coming out.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Under the Lions Gate Bridge

I woke up with a sudden cold this morning, so I figured this was a good place to go drawing.  It's right by the  north shore sewage lagoon - it's good to lack a sense of smell there.  The Lions Gate Bridge crosses a fairly narrow inlet, but it has to gain a lot of height to let the big ships in, so most of it is over land.  The towers holding up that part seem remarkably delicate, but they apparently do the job.  The area I was drawing in was a bit of a nowhere-land - under a bridge, by a sewage lagoon, beside a railyard and obviously used as a makeshift garbage dump - but still three separate passers-by stopped to see what I was doing and talk for a while.  Sketching in public seems to make a person more approachable, even in a dubious area where people might normally avoid eye contact.  Hopefully I didn't give them all my cold.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Quick trip to Portland

We made a quick trip to Portland last weekend, with stops at the new Chihuly Gardens in Seattle, overnight in Olympia Washington and two nights in Portland.  My drawing was a bit sparse - I realized that you have to actively schedule time for drawing when there is so much else to do.  That, and the fact that it was pretty much a hurricane the whole time we were in Portland...
     Chihuly gardens in Seattle is a great place, with large rooms filled with Chihuly's exuberant glass and an outdoor garden with various glass installations.  The exhibits are so extravagant that you feel you are immersed in them, not just viewing them.  The two yellow tree-like things in the quick sketch are constructions of hundreds of separate blown glass pieces, each an amazing object in its own right.  It's worth the trip from Vancouver on its own (even if you then spend almost an hour driving 1km to get out of the city on Seattle's deteriorating and nearly non-functional infrastructure).

We stayed in the Swantown B&B in a lovely Victorian mansion in Olympia as we continued south and the typhoon arrived.  It had that good balance of being maintained but also showing its age, complete with a spooky dark roped-off stairway heading to the attic.  Clearly dark deeds had been done there (even if the B&B's brochure claimed that it was a day spa with things like aromatherapy massages.)

Portland has the highest per capita number of micro-breweries, food trucks, and people concerned about gluten anywhere in the world.  It also has a huge farmer's market, a thriving bicycle and green culture, entire neighbourhoods of old houses painted funky colours (and not torn down for taupe maximum-envelop boxes like North Vancouver), and great mixes of heavy industry, ports and bridges.  All excellent subjects for drawing - except that it was so wet we risked drowning just walking down the street, so I was limited to a quick sketch of the entranceway to a cafe in an old house.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Start of fall

I have a little sketchbook where I do a drawing-a-day-almost.  Here's a page with 3 days from the end of summer to the start of fall: the grapes are ripe, one last red flower from the summer, and a windy break in the first fall storm.  If I'd drawn faster, I could have caught the neighbour's lawn chair sailing into the back lane.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A gritty nude

This is my best painting so far on sandpaper.  OK, it's also my only painting so far on sandpaper, but it's a promising medium.  The idea came about when drawing-friend Sigrid starting drawing on wood veneer, which she got as an assorted box of scraps from Lee Valley.  That reminded of the 10 pound box of random sandpaper bits that I got there 5 years ago, which I've been going through at the rate of about 0.01 pounds per year (it's high-quality industrial stuff, and doesn't wear out).  After a bit of experiment, I found a technique: I put down areas of white gouache, rub Inktense blocks on the rough sandpaper, then mix the two with a damp brush.  It feels a lot like oil paint, except that I can also remove colour easily.  I haven't liked the Inktense sticks on paper, but they're great on the rough surface, bursting into colour when I add water.  It's fun for capturing shorter poses like this when my charcoal isn't co-operating, and may be a nice change from pen-and-watercolour for sketching.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Ocean cement

Ocean Cement has been operating out of Granville Island since 1917, and they are still going strong.  It's a prime spot, right by downtown - within concrete-setting-time distance - and it's on the water to get materials easily.  It helps keep the area with the market, art school and all the studios a bit more real than they might otherwise be.  Plus they paint the cement trucks with funky designs.  I saw one that was painted as a pickle today.

I was drawing there with the urban-sketchers meetup group, because the mobile park-in-a-dumpster that we call home-away-from-home was parked outside Emily Carr University.  But I think "They" have realized how seditious a public drawing group is, because I noticed a sinister looking agent in camouflage-orange observing us carefully from behind the foliage on a nearby balcony.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Marilyn at Dr Sketchy's

Marilyn Monroe was at Dr. Sketchy's in Vancouver last night.  In case you were wondering where she's been all these years.  And still looking great.  Mind you, most of my drawings looked more like Norma Jeane than Marilyn.  I blame that on the heat - a small cafe with a lot of people, not to mention spot lights, on a warm Vancouver night is very hot.  But some like it that way.