Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Necropolis de Colon - Havana

This huge cemetery is entirely consistent with the architecture of Havana, complete with strong old-world Spanish character (complete with the Moorish influences) and some wonderful Art Deco, however the difference is that the structures in the Necropolis are in very good condition.

More than that, it prompted curiosity about the cultural attitudes around death and how its accommodation with the socialist/communist politics of Cuba's modern state.  Many of the monuments reminded me of the old churches I saw in Spain while walking the Camino in Spain and especially the spires of the Sagrada de Famila in Barcelona.

We visited early in the trip, before my sketch valves opened and I was able to loosen up and up and  have fun, I was still in that stiff, documentarian mode.  I almost never complete, much less revisit, my sketchbook drawings.  But had it been later in the trip, I would have had more fun with some with circular perspective.  I think it was in the back of my mind, but didn't surface until a few days later  at the Plaza de Catedral.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Visit Havana - Draw Cars

Havana is famous for its 1950's cars.  Some of the Urban Sketchers gurus have done some wonderful studies of these industrial design marvels.  At first they were fascinating, but then I started to think of them as a cliche, at least in terms of sketching.  That, and the best locations to draw them, at taxi stands, were out in the hot sun with nowhere to sit in the shade nearby.

We did have several rides in these old beasts.  Yes - beasts.  The tourist convertibles were in prime condition and I was left wondering if US relations are ever restored that they might get bought up and repatriated.   Maybe Jay Leno will buy up 30 or 40 of the best convertibles some afternoon.  The rest - as you might expect they are in rough shape, incredibly noisy and belching clouds of blue smoke.   And it's not just riding in them - the noise and fumes, even though the traffic is sparse, made walking along main roads very tiring.  And our ride in a collectivo taxi to the beach from Vinales was nothing short of exhausting, from the noise alone.

I was also left with many questions, as I was about the country and its history.  How in the world had they kept these machines running without replacement parts? - I've given up on cars less than 10 years old.  What is the cost of gas?  Those cars were gas hogs 60 years ago when new, and with sloppy cylinders what are the miles per quart of engine oil?  The radical, jet plane, styling must have been extremely expensive for Detroit to re-tool from year to year.  A golden age of marketing.

There were newer cars on the road - more in Vinales that Havana, and I wondered how they would be serviced in this age of electronic components and proprietary dealer computers.  There is a huge market opportunity for simple, easily repaired, Chinese or Indian vehicles growing in Cuba.  Or, better yet, bicycles, in Havana.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The World is Round - Circular Perspective

About a week into my trip to Cuba my sketching valves opened and I started to loosen up and have fun.  I had done a couple of aerial perspectives and without much planning, sat down and generated this sketch.

Part of it was loosening up my hand by drawing for a week, but probably of more influence was the visits to the collective print studio - Taller Experimental de Garfica de la Habana, which is just off the Plaza de la Catedral.  Those visits had me thinking about representing what I saw, or even using what I was sketching as a starting point for composition  and moving away from strict documentation of the subject.  A breakthrough for me, as it was really fun to do and adds a fresh approach to my repertoire.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Havana Printshop Collective

While in Havana, I stopped into this collective printmaking workshop several times.  Some days there were musicians playing Cuban music to the patrons of the restaurants just outside the workshop. ( Taller is Spanish for workshop)  But the really cool thing was that I was welcome to just hang out.  I kept going back because of the friendly vibe, but  also to check into the progress of some of the artist's works in progress.  It was inspiring, but because of it's superb technical competency, but also the edgy character, which is something I hadn't expected.

But the cool thing, was that it had immediate influence on how I filled the pages of my sketchbook.  One day, without much thought, I found myself approaching my sketchbook in a different way - a little break-though for me of moving away from documentation to interpretation.

Thanks so much, Jorge, Dania, Ian and Darian.  I've been having a little pipe dream of returning with the deliberate purpose of working an studying at the Taller.  There's hope yet that I might become an artist.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Don't Throw Orthographic Projection Out with the Bathwater

I have been thinking about drawing in technical terms lately - imagining birds-eyes views (aerial view), curved or circular perspectives and so forth.

The day I encountered Roberto Fabelo's sculpture in one of Havana's major plazas, I thought I'd treat it like an architectural drawing and do it in plan and each side as an elevation (orthographic projection).  So here it is, the plan view in the centre with each elevation adjacent to it. Although as I look at it, I realize I got the two side views mixed up - proof, maybe, that its not so easy.

And then while adding some colour I decided to take some liberties and depart from the bronze of the sculpture in keeping with real roosters.

One more tiny step towards interpreting what I see, breaking away from rigid documentation.  As you might gather, I was taken by the sculpture and Roberto Fabelo's gift to me, was putting it there to have the fun of studying it.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Mass in Havana

When traveling I often walk into a local church to attend the service.  I've had some amazing experiences including a couple of full-on gospel congregations in Chicago and New York City.  There was a large catholic church between  the casa particular, where I was staying, and the old town, so it was a natural to drop in on that Sunday morning.  I wish I understood Spanish as Fidel Castro had died just two days before and I think that was what the homily was about.

Sketching in a church is not much different from sketching anywhere - no-one notices, and you have opportunity not just to draw the church but to study people sitting relatively still.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

I never met a boat I didn't want to draw

Havana Harbour is a huge, well protected industrial port.  Cargo and military ships, stationary cranes, even mammoth cruise ships in and out daily.  However there are several dozen small fishing boats moored along the west approach.  These are predominantly inboards with tillers and the colour scheme seems to be the red, white and blue of the Cuban flag.  

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Draw Like a Bird

Catedral Plaza - Havana
Creperie Oasis Neva - Havana (highly recommended for lunch btw)
Plaza San Francisco -  Havana

I've been throwing some different approaches into my sketch repertoire recently.  I  have a professional fascination with urban spaces and often do aerial perspectives - aka bird's eye views, of the designs of public places that I'm proposing.  I long regarded these drafting table drawings as technical and somehow not "urban sketchy", but this fall realized that they are a really valid way of understanding and documenting places.  This vantage point describes the whole space in a way that one, or even several, conventional views cannot.  

And its fun to do.

Mental gymnastics - exercising my perspective muscles. 

Documenting what I can see, but not directly in the way I see it.  A creative bridge to creating designed or imaginary places.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Vinales Cuba

Vinales is located about 150 kilometres west of Havana.  It is an agricultural and tourism hub and seems to be prospering from both.  The main street is lined with restaurants and it seems like half the colourful bungalows that make up the town have "Casa Particular" (bed and breakfast) signs displayed.

This sketch is of a couple of restaurants on a side street, where there was a constant stream of farm vehicles, from tractors to horse drawn 2 wheeled carts, wandering dogs, chickens and local inhabitants bumping into each other and stopping to chat.

I perched on a low wall, out of the sun, out of danger of pigeon droppings from above and soaked it all in as I least until a taxi drop through the puddle in front of me and nearly ruined my work!  Note to self: don't sit in front of puddles.

Monday, 12 December 2016

A Day at the Beach

I spent a few days in Vinales - a rural town in the north central countryside about 150 kilometres from Havana.  Its a vibrant farming area - tobacco, coffee and sugar cane, but also a centre for tourism.  There is a very fine beach on the north coast called Cayo Juntas which is a full day trip by "collectiveo" taxi.  I was one of eight passengers in a Willys  (famous for its world war 2 "jeeps") station wagon that was probably 60 years old.  It was a deafening, rough ride that took 2 hours belching oily exhaust along the 60 kilometres to the coast. The road was in very poor condition so our driver was forced to gear down to a crawl and wander all over avoiding potholes.

Our driver pulled in under some trees behind the beach and we were free to walk along miles of white sand and find a place to sit, sketch and swim.  Several other taxis showed up and a spear fisherman delivered a dozen fresh fish for them to roast over a fire.  The drivers seemed to make a fine day of it visiting and sharing mechanical skills under several of their ancient car's hoods.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Your Man in Habana

I'm just back home from a couple of weeks in Cuba.  I spent most of the time in Havana and sketched every day as there were endless interesting subjects begging to be studied.

This was done early on in the trip and is the view looking back at the Vedado district of the city from the waterfront walkway known as the Malceon.  One of the famous buildings in view ids the Nacional Hotel, scene of many dramatic events in the history of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

The consistent clear skies and direct light brought out the tropical colours, but the high humidity often lead to accidental blooms and bleeds as the paint was slow to dry, even with the heat.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Mohr Island

My pal David sent me an amazing set of watercolour paints from Japan last month.  The colours are strong and most are opaque.  I have been doing some experiments with hem on a nice little pad of 6" x 6" high cotton content made by Papier Canal in Montreal.

I find it surprisingly difficult to just choose colours and do splotches of colour as an abstract painting and after a few peices, chose to work from something I could see.  This was the view from the boat moored at Mohr Island on the Ottawa River, complete with the navigation buoy off the sandbar.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Yank Thou

I've been having some fun making cards for friends lately.  The addition of a rubber alphabet stamp set has opened some new possibilities...just add a dash of pig latin and a shake of spoonerism.

eatgrey unfay!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Big Blue

"Big Blue" is the pride and joy of the harbour at Britannia Yacht Club, or at least my pride and joy as the Harbour Master.  It's a 5000 kg. hydraulic stationary crane that can lift all but about a dozen boats in our fleet.  Before we bought it, we had to bring in mobile cranes and basically launched about 175 boats with three cranes in one day.  If you missed launch or haul-out, or had to pull the boat out for a repair, it meant you had to bring in a crane and pay the minimum hours charge - very expensive.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Tiny Perfect Library

 I have a great little library just down the street.  Its free - no library cards, fines, or need to be quiet.  I first saw one of these on Toronto Island and attributed it to the Islands' strong cultural identity, but have learned that Little Free Libraries have been springing up all over the continent.  I check it out on the way by on my various dog walks and have slowly left two boxes of books that I've been carting around for decades.  There is always something of interest there and it's rarely depleted.

The other thing I appreciate is the design.  I've never talked to the owner, but clearly the cabinet was designed by a professional - an industrial designer, I'm thinking.  Very thoughtful detailing and skillful fabrication. Kudos to the designer/builder.


I consider one of my strengths to be the ability to synthesize.  Maybe that's what's behind this sketch/cartoon I did last weekend, while helping out at Wintergreen.  Wintergreen is a retreat centre which offers a quiet, natural, place to go a little deeper into whatever your "community of interest" might be.

So, last week end as I chopped vegetables and washed dishes, I listened into  a group from a local church taking the Alpha Course on Christianity.  I took a few minutes, between runs to the compost pile, to do this sketch and then added the captions back at home.

I sent it on to the group and hope that they see it as intended - a sort of blurred time-frame snapshot of their session.

This aligns my life-long desire to be an editorial cartoonist and attraction to urban sketching as story-telling.  I think I'll use this device again.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Choosing the Angle

This was a longer pose - maybe an hour and a half, but I didn't take the full time.  I did the upper drawing first and then did a walk around to see what the other participants were up to.  That's when I realized that the straight-on view was a little static and repositioned to do the lower drawing, which I think was a more interesting angle. I could probably have had more fun with the foreshortening, even exaggerating the size of the feet.

Something to remember for next time.

10 and 20 Minute Poses

As much as I like the short gesture poses, it is nice to have a few more minutes to draw the whole figure and even add some colour.  In keeping with my training for urban sketching, given more time and I'm likely to start again from a different angle, or even draw the drawers.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Life Drawing - Gestures

I don't know why its called "life drawing", but drawing naked models has long been considered the best way to learn to draw.  Maybe its because our human brains are so trained to judge the visual proportions of a person and we innately know when its accurate, as opposed to a building or landscape, which if unknown, can look credible.

My interest is urban sketching and I try to be evocative rather than precise.  So, in last weekends life drawing workshop, I stood with a small notebook and my trusty Lamy fountain pen, as standing  and going straight to ink yields more energetic drawings.  When I sit, my drawings tend to become overly detailed and stiff, and some people even say that standing is a more representative point of view of how we experience urban spaces.

 These contour drawings were some of the warm up sketches - 2 minutes each, which is why the model could hold such dramatic poses.  These short "gestures" are my favourite, as it's really fun.  And also because, I'm less interested and patient to work on detailed studies, although I would like to do more portraits and it's an excellent opportunity to practice hands and feet, which are really difficult to get right.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Floating Over the Room

I've been playing with aerial views and one-point perspectives looking down on urban spaces, so thought I'd draw the whole room this way during a 2 hour life drawing pose.

This is  an interesting way to study and record a place, as you must look beyond what you can see from one static, point of view.  It's drawing what you see, but not the way you see it, with the exception of myself, of course.

Drawing the Drawers

"No one told me I was supposed to just draw the nude guy."

I love the short warm-up gestures and shorter poses, but am less interested in complete careful drawings on the poses over an hour in length, when life drawing.   And more and more, I prefer to just go straight to ink, rather than blocking out first with pencil. So, in the fine tradition of Urban Sketchers, I decided to entertain myself by drawing the drawers.  As much as studying the model improves my drawing, the participants are generally quite still, and like people in a coffee shop, if they move, inevitably, they go back to  the previous position.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Expanding my horizons

Last week I attended a lecture supporting an exhibition by the Organization of Kingston Women Artists (OKWA) in the Steam Museum.   Its' a high quality mix of work around the theme of " A Sense of Place".  The "place" being Kingston.

I was quite taken by an abstract painting by Caroline Marshall  which uses very subtle colours with a flat (matte) finish and deep fissures.  I was very interested to hear her describe her working methods and techniques of layering and using cold wax.

One of the other delightful paintings was called "Pandemonium", by Mary Peppard.  It depicts a woman feeding the birds on the shore of Lake Ontario by the Celtic cross memorial to the Irish workers who died building the Rideau Canal with the wind towers across the bay on Wolfe Island in the background.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Friday, 15 April 2016

Kingston Marina

I always love a boatyard and they are especially interesting off-season with the boats up on "the hard".  Kingston Marina is a real working yard with venerable sailboats, tour boats and a variety of fire boats and new stainless steel working craft - patrol and rescue boats, rigid inflatables and the like - manufactured right there in the harbour at Metalcraft Marine.  I'd give my eye teeth to have a real good rip in any of their boats, no matter what the sea state.

The upper sketch is an old folkboat, a small seaworthy, full-keeled, little boat that has been around the world. What's unusual, is that it has no auxiliary engine. Luckily, on a windless day, it's small enough to move with a paddle, as one old timer told me that's how it arrived here in the marina.

The three legged, stationary crane in the lower sketch
was designed as 150 ton capacity when it was one of the four used to build the Thousand Island Bridge, but has been downgraded to 75 tons in its old age.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Spring Street Methodist Church

There are five or six very nice churches in Westport,  a charming village on Big Rideau Lake.  I'm always taken with the big dreams and level of effort that the people in these small towns had in building not just churches, but also impressive town halls and schools in these fledgling 19th century Ontario towns.  That, and the divisions between denominations, which compared to the cultural diversity in Canada today seem trivial.

This elegant brick church struck me as unusual as the taller tower, which is on the corner of the block, is at 45 degrees to the main building.  It also has three main doors and I understand a sloped (theatre) floor, so I'm curious to take a peak inside sometime.

It was built in 1889 as a Methodist Church, but in the Church Union, when the Canadian Methodists,  and  Presbyterians merged, it would have been renamed as a United Church.  Interestingly, there is also an active Presbyterian congregation in Westport - one of the third that declined merging in 1925.

Monday, 28 March 2016

No Lack of Character

One of the things I appreciate about the harbour where I keep my sailboat are the other owners.  As you can imagine there is lots of discussion about sailing, boat maintenance and the attributes of different boats.

My friend John, bought a C & C 27 Mark III in 1975.  It was one of 10 out of 100 manufactured that year to remain in Canada. He sailed it for 40 years on Lac Deschenes, on the Ottawa River and never spent a night on it.

But here's the fun part.  The question I always like to ask these characters, is how did you learn to sail.

John grew up in Boston and as a boy, spent summers in Booth Harbour Maine. At the age of 13 he dragged an abandoned wooden dinghy out of the water and spent two summers repairing it all by himself.  He even made a sail from a bed sheet, with which he taught himself to sail.  Later on, in high school,  he owned a Dragon which he sailed on the Charles River.  All a precursor to his varied and colourful life as a graduate physician, who then became a fighter pilot and later and adviser to several Presidents.

Sadly John passed away late last year and as he did not want a funeral, I haven't used his full name.

Monday, 21 March 2016

More B & W

a scan of the lino, itself...."backwards"
It seems I've gone back to my old black and white ways.  I drew with ink  for fun for years and then stopped as it became an occupation.   As an architect, it was all about lines, or sometimes lines and heavier lines, not colour, so I  think maybe, that I started to think that way, in my very visual mind.

My wonderful mentor, Jim Belisle , explained that to me a couple of sketching trips ago.   He makes wonderful "smudges" in his endless sketchbooks and has become very painterly in his approach.

All to say, I've been playing around with lino-cut this winter and have ambitions to do a series of the huts that I love to cross-country ski to in Gatineau Park.

Several winters ago I visited each one and it was great fun to experience different trails and be first, often, to light the wood stoves.  (that's another theme - lighting fires)

Anyway, back to the lino-cut.  Shilly Shally was the first one to come to mind, as I'm very fond of that little cabin.  The first lino-cut  was a "learner" and I will never show a print, in part because, duh,  I forgot about the mirror image part and also, I've been working on a two press thing, to add the red of the barge board, window frames and doors.  Although, this image does remind me of skiing in at night, which I love to do.

I've got to get this series done then find a good workshop on woodcut print-making.....

West Port Tree Fort

Now wouldn't it be fine,
to stop and take the time,
to sketch a maple tree fort,
while on the road to Westport?

editorial comment:
I haven't been sketching lately, as you see from this careful (stiff)  drawing .... it takes me a couple of days of sketching to get in that loose groove that I aim for.

but; says me, to meself, at least I took the time and had fun doing it

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sketch Journal Workshop at Wintergreen

This spring, I will be leading a sketching workshop.  It will be held at Wintergreen Studios on the weekend of May 28-29 with a jaunt into nearby Westport, Ontario to practice.  Wintergreen is a wilderness retreat centre that offers educational programming in the arts and on the environment.

Before photography became easy and affordable, travellers and artists used sketchbooks to record new places or study elements to be used in a subsequent composition.  And while taking photographs has never been easier, many people are returning to the practice of keeping sketch journals.   These are often very personalised drawings and notes, which emphasize impressions and character  over detailed documentation.  This requires focused observation and concentration, which deepens experiences and memories of a new place, or even familiar surroundings.    


Over the weekend, we will cover selection of subject, composition, visual editing and the use of line and colour.  The workshop will be structured as a rhythm of demonstrations, practice exercises and group reviews, to give participants the tools and confidence to create their own sketch journals.

waiting for a flight
 Guests at Wintergreen have access to a network of over a dozen trails for self-guided hikes through the 204-acre property. The land features mixed forests and meadows, granite outcroppings, ponds, marshes, and a glacier carved lake. It is home to a wide range of plant life and wildlife. Our simple and comfortable accommodations include private rooms, shared rooms, woodland cabins, and tenting for those who prefer to sleep under the stars.
rural Spain

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Craft Markets in the Sacred Valley

The craft markets were great fun in the Sacred Valley of Peru.  They were a bit chaotic and all the more fun for that.  What was really impressive was the variety and quality of the goods - particularly woven and knitted cloths and clothing.

The sketches are from Ollantaytambo (upper) with the Inca granaries up on the mountainside beyond and Pisac ( below), and here's the surprise - selection and especially prices were actually better in Cusco.