Thursday, 29 January 2015

Travel - people, places (and beer)

Travel - even a mundane work trip to Edmonton - always brings a few interesting moments.  The best one on last week's trip to oil-land was on the seabus in Vancouver on my way to the airport.  I was drawing with my headphones on, and I noticed the lady beside me watching intently.  After a few minutes, she tapped on my shoulder, handed me her notebook and said "Draw me".  This was a bit stressful, especially because we were about 4 minutes from the end of the trip.  I've learned that doing small portraits in pen, it's very easy to make someone look a lot older than they are - each little line in the wrong place looks like a serious wrinkle.  I managed to do a clean, reasonably accurate 3-minute portrait (which she made me sign - you never know when I might become famous...)  She then did a portrait of me in my sketchbook, adopting a somewhat more minimalist style than I use (I made her sign it, because you never know...).  It was a fun, and rare, interaction between strangers - and less strangers now, because even three minutes of looking intently at someone tells you a bit about them, enough that I was able to recreate the portrait from memory later.

Otherwise, the usual mix of airports, a wintry-grey view from my hotel room, random people sitting places (including the Air Canada lounge at the Edmonton Airport, courtesy of a guest pass, and a Starbucks where I was briefly stranded as freezing rain made being a pedestrian a life-risking venture), and, of course, continued training for my future career as a beer illustrator.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The drawing channel

Not having a television at home, they are a novel experience when I'm in a hotel.  I found a channel that shows a continuous series of (highly oversaturated) photographs for 45 seconds each - perfect for practicing quick ink-and-watercolour sketches.  It's like circuit-training.  I drew about half of the pictures in a 30-minute show, 18 in total.  

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Birdy rocks

Being a bike-rider and a bit of a birder, I keep an annual NMT bird list.  NMT = "non-motorized transport" - so, any birds you can see within walking, cycling, skiing, paddling distance of your home.  There's an astounding variety of habitats I can reach, ranging from intertidal mudflats to old-growth forest to open alpine areas, and even, if I push it, that most prized birding habitat, a sewage lagoon. 

One of the more distinctive spots is the Grebe Islets, two rocky pieces of land visible from a cliffside park in West Vancouver.  I rode there in the fog on Wednesday, timing it miraculously so that the fog was just lifting as I arrived.  All kinds of birds proceeded to pass by or pop up from the back sides of the islets, and I could paint while I waited for them.

Today I took the long way around Stanley Park on the way home from a downtown urban-sketchers meetup.  I found 28 black oystercatchers huddled on a near-shore rock - a remarkable number of these remarkable birds.  They were unfazed by a skinny-dipping couple woo-hooing loudly into the water nearby, but a passing eagle sent them into panicked flight.  The one gull remained, with a "Uh, what's happening?" look.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A bit of the Arctic in Vancouver

No, not the weather - warm, sunny and flowering bushes starting to bloom here.   But a visitor from the far north has taken up residence for the winter across the bridge in Vancouver.  The gyrfalcon is the biggest falcon, breeding on cliffs near the Arctic Ocean and hunting ducks, seabirds and the like by chasing them down in the open.  For three years now, a gyrfalcon has spent the winter in Vancouver at the Viterra grain terminal near the Second Narrows bridge - a tall, cliff-like structure right on the ocean, with open areas around, and, best of all, huge flocks of grain-fed pigeons.  It's just like home.  Except for the noise.  And the rain.  And the flowers in January.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Chinese art at the Vancouver Art Gallery

The Vancouver Art Gallery hosted an impressive show of art from the Forbidden City in Beijing.  I went there with the Vancouver Urban Sketchers on the last weekend of the show, which was also the last weekend of the holidays.  Half the population of Vancouver realized that this meant it was the last chance to see the exhibits.  My gallery membership paid for itself in the pleasure of being able to walk right by the line-up that stretched out the door.  There were many groups of elderly Chinese people, probably the generation who migrated here and who would never have had a chance to see the emperors' collections, along with their children, who were translating the information signs for their parents.  The younger generation was struggling with the Mandarin, asking each other "What's the word for..." - I guess you don't get many opportunities to say "Sedan chair for carrying the emperor around" or "Empress' ceremonial coat" too often in Canada.

There was also an accompanying exhibition of some contemporary Chinese art.  I didn't get a chance to see too much of it, mainly because - like half the other sketchers - I was captivated by trying to draw Ai WeiWei's installation of a room full of traditional three-legged stools, all joined together in higgledy-piggledy ways to form soaring arches and swooping caverns.  Most sketchers sensibly focused on a small part, but I foolishly tried to draw all 886 stools.  That show is on for a few more months, so I'll get back to fill in any of the 2,658 legs I missed, and see the rest of the art.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Giving houses for Christmas

A gift hint for urban sketchers - you can give people a drawing of their house, even if they live on the other side of the country.  You don't have to be there, because Google Streetview almost certainly has been.  I was actually at my sister's red-brick house in Kingston this fall, but didn't think to take a picture.  So, the all-seeing eye of Google to the rescue...

The other little house is The Viking cabin at Hollyburn, in the hey-day of its pink phase, long before Google.  The cabin, we are told, was painted pink by a former owner as a protest against some restriction placed on his architectural ambitions by the municipality.  When we acquired it last summer, it was an inglorious brown, and on - or mostly fallen off - its last legs.  Fortunately a few old photos and a bit of imagination let me restore it, at least in the drawing for Kelly.  The real cabin we had to disassemble, salvaging non-rotten logs, hauling painted parts down the trail and to the landfill, and burning the unusable clean wood.  Next summer, we'll build a very similar replacement.  But not pink.  Purple maybe?  Chartreuse?  Or perhaps just natural unpainted wood...