I did a little sketching from my car this morning, hoping to capture the piles of fresh snow after yesterday’s storm. When I got home and looked at my sketch, I thought “What a mess!” And then I realized that my warm weather drawing is so much more careful than my cold weather drawing. Duh. My drawing hand is frozen, my feet are cold, and there’s blowing snow obscuring the car window. I just want to get it over with quickly so I can go home and warm up. In Florida, with warm hands, I was able to slow down and take the time to really look at things before drawing them. But now that I’ve returned to winter, I’m back to frozen extremities and messy speed sketching.
Now that I’m back in Montreal with my trusty scanner at my side, I’m posting my last few Sanibel sketches. If you missed any from the trip, the full gallery of Sanibel Island images is now on my website.
The really hot beach days were during the first week of the trip. I did a few people sketches while visiting my family in Siesta Key.
There were also a few days that I didn’t post during the first week because I had a flu and spent a few days in bed. When I felt well enough to get up I sat on the deck and sketched the green chair and the coconut, as well as the two palms and the causeway across San Carlos Bay.
That’s about it for the warm weather sketching. I’ll be back to painting snow this week!
This morning my bike took me to the Sanibel Island Museum & Village. Composed of eight authentic restored buildings, the village is well worth a visit if you are interested in the history of the island between 1880 and the 1940s. I opted out the guided tour, choosing instead to sketch Bailey’s General Store (mostly because of the gas pumps out front) but I did overhear tidbits from many docents leading tours past my sketching bench. The building I sketched was the “new” store, constructed in 1927 after the old store was destroyed in a hurricane. In 1966 a bigger store was opened in a new location, and you can still shop there today.
I sketched this big banyan tree in the last hour of daylight, while sitting on the front steps of the Old Lee County Courthouse in downtown Fort Myers. It’s an impressive specimen but not much can be found about it on Google. The only tidbit I dug up was from a 2016 article by Amy Bennett Williams in the News–Press. “Back in the pre-political correctness days, Lee County wags would string up local politicians in effigy from the banyan and a nearby live oak, then put up a “political graveyard” underneath.”
Knowing I only had a short time to sketch before losing the light, I chose a brush pen for drawing. I quickly drew in the tree and then added some surroundings (buildings, people, etc.) for scale. The effect of the brush pen is a bit cartoony but it allows me to get things done quickly. And since the tree takes up most of the two-page spread, I tried to get as much colour in my washes as possible.
The day started and ended with a bird story. On a morning bike ride through a wooded trail that crossed through a reservoir, there was an Anhinga atop a wooden post drying its wings (which are apparently not waterproof) by spreading them open in the sun. I’d only ever seen this bird once before, a few days previous, at the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge where the bird was perched on a low hanging branch above a marsh, watching for fish in the murky water below. We stopped our bikes to watch the bird, even moved a little closer to take photos, and miraculously it did not budge. It stayed on its perch for so long I probably could have sketched it but eventually a runner went by and it flew away.
Later in the day I sketched the ominous sky and the wind in the palms across the canal. At one point I looked up and saw hundreds of black birds fly in, darkening the horizon as they landed on rooftops and trees.
At about the same time, a little blue heron landed near me on the dock. I reached into my pocket for my phone to take a photo but realized I had left it behind. The bird watched me for a long time, taking small steps closer and closer before eventually flying off. A few minutes later it landed again next to me, not two feet away, and this time it stayed, and stayed and stayed. It stayed so long I decided to draw it. I’m not an accomplished sketcher of birds like Cathy Johnson or Jean Mackay, but this little guy seemed to pose for me for a good ten minutes, certainly enough time for me to observe details in the blue-grey feathers and greenish legs. Seems like a long time in bird time. I would have loved to add a little shadow on the ground but the bird finally found something more interesting than me and flew away. And by then the moment had passed and it seemed strange to continue the sketch. I guess this story epitomizes what I love best about urban sketching. You sit down to do one thing and something else happens, just because you are there, watching and listening to what is around you. And in the end, I am happy that I forgot my phone, this one time, because when I look back on this day my sketch of the bird will mean more to me than a photo of it ever would.
I often select an area of a scene I want to focus on and work outwards from there. In this sketch it was the area of shadow that crossed the doorway of the beach house. From there I worked outwards to the palm, the sea grape and the beach. The top of the sketch is a bit unfinished, mostly because I was sitting on a very low beach chair to draw and it was hard to look up to see behind the sea grape. On this trip that beach plant has become one of my favourite to draw — how can you not love a plant with such circular leaves? Sketched in a Handbook Watercolour Journal, portrait size (approx. 16 x 8) and held open with shells on a windy day.
Do you know the sinking feeling of arriving at a sketching spot, reaching into your bag and realizing you are missing a key component of your kit? That happened to me today at Fort Myers beach. I had a sketchbook, paints and water but no pen or pencil. Luckily I had a small kit of brushes that were fine enough to draw with. So here’s what I did.
I started by drawing the scene with a small round brush. I used a warm colour (Quinacridone Gold) that would work with everything in the scene. When this line structure dries, it’s pale enough to paint over with other colours, so don’t worry if something in the scene has no yellow in it.
When that was mostly dry I added in the big shapes with a larger flat brush. No detail at this stage.
And finally, with the smaller round brush I added darks and details. By that time my family was back from their walk along the beach and it was time to pack up. There are probably a few things that would be different if I had done some pencil lines first (smaller trees moving into the distance, lower horizon line) but this was enough to capture the essence of the beach on December 31, 2017. Happy New Year!