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.